Tag Archives: Kim

Oscars 2016 Shorts Reviews: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:

ANIMATED:

-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.

The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.

-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.

I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.

-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?

It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.

-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.

Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.

-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.

And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:

-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?

It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.

-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?

It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.

-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.

They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.

It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.

-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.

Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay?  Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.

-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.

At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.

And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.

With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.

 

VIFF 2016 Review: Yourself And Yours (당신 자신과 당신의 것)

yourself-yours

Kim Ju-Hyuck (left) and You-Young Lee play a couple who were meant to be but they don’t know it in Yourself And Yours.

Yourself And Yours isn’t just simply a Korean film that’s a love story. It’s a story about a couple and will leave you wondering whether the two are right as a couple.

The story begins with a young woman named Minjung flirting with men at a nearby soju bar. Some time before Minjung left her boyfriend Youngsoo. Youngsoo heard from someone Minjung was drinking with another man and the meeting ended in a fight. Minjung denies this but Youngsoo is still suspicious. Minjung decides that it’s best the two be apart for some time.

Minjung later meets with an older man. He’s a man Minjung met at a park one given day. Youngsoo hasn’t looked for another woman since Minjung left. Since the time, all Youngsoo can think about is Minjung. He knows he loves her and regrets the way he acted that night. He even goes to the house where he believes Minjung to be residing at with no luck.

Meanwhile Minjung eventually breaks up with the older man. Days later another older man thinks he recognizes Minjung. He believes he rank with her. Minjung denies it but does strike up a conversation with him. Then the older man who Minjung just broke up with returns but Minjung claims not to recognize him. The other man appears to start an argument with him only to later find out they were both classmates in high school many years ago. Both men strike up a friendly conversation completely forgetting about Minjung, who leaves in tears embarassed and heartbroken.

Coincidentally Youngsoo meets up with Minjung. Minjung doesn’t take to friendly towards him at first but she soon starts to warm up to him realizing how much he loves her. They then return back to Youngsoo’s house. Later Youngsoo wakes up without Minjung by his side. He wonders where she went. Then the film ends leaving you feeling this was meant to be.

The film is a bit of a play on both the couple and the two individuals. You see a single Minjung hitting on men and being this woman of mystery even denying past happenings. You see Youngsoo as a man who’s nothing without Minjung. He’s convinced of it. It’s in his heart. You see the moment that led to their split. You see them reconcile unexpectedly and you see the morning after. The film also allows the audient to have their own opinions of both Youngsoo and Minjung individually and as a couple. Youngsoo loves Minjung but should he love her? Especially since she’s the type to deny knowing past boyfriends or past incidents. You are even left wondering if that drunken incident that led to the split was true after all? Is Minjung too deceptive or manipulative of a woman for Youngsoo to love? No wonder the opening of the final scene of Youngsoo alone in bed will get one questioning what next.

The story itself is a good story with a lot of focus on the couple and the individuals. However the film also has many scenes that are too boring or too drawn out. There have been times in which I felt there were scenes that either appeared drawn out or lacked energy or even the proper opening. I think it could have been done better. I know the point of the film is to focus on the relations and present the scenarios but I believe it could have been done with more liveliness.

Writer/director Sang-soo Hong did a very good job with the film. It makes for a n interesting love story despite some scenes seeming to lack the energy. Lee Yoo Yeung was the standout as MinJung. She did a very convincing job of delivering a character of a young woman you could easily question. Kim Ju Hyeok was also good as Youngsoo but I feel his character could have been developed better.

Yourself And Yours is a love story that’s a unique look at love as well as a good focus on the two characters.

Summer Movie Summary: Comedies

I don’t know about you but live-action comedies didn’t fare so well at the box office this summer. The highest-grossing comedy of the summer was Central Intelligence with just over $127 million. The only other two comedies of the summer to gross over $100 million were Ghostbusters and Bad Moms. Have people lost their sense of humor? For this summary, I will review two movies: Ghostbusters and The Nice Guys.

The Nice Guysthe-nice-guys

I’ll start the focus on one movie I saw all the way back in May. A comedy I was hoping to do well at the box office but didn’t. I saw The Nice Guys because I felt we were long overdue for a crime comedy or a police comedy. I have to say that this was a funny movie and has to be this year’s overlooked gem.

It takes us back to the 1970’s not just to do with the clothes, hair and music but also of a 70’s thing few 70’s-set movies focus on: the abundance of porn. We often forget that the 1970’s was the sexual revolution’s biggest heyday. A decade of free love at its freest and pornography was prevalent even in the movie theatres. It was even okay back then to take a date to a porno.

Here, they make a crime story set in the deliriousness of the porn business. It doesn’t aim for one-liners like so many other comedies resort to. What it does is it makes comedy of the situation. A case of a private eye and an enforcer who become unlikely partners in trying to solve a murder and who is connected to it. Another humorous situation is at the Los Angeles Auto Show where a clip of the porno starring the murder victim is spliced in to the auto show film to the shock of all. The story even has ironies added into it like how the Holly March, daughter of private eye Holland March, is able to help solve some part of the crime with her know-how. Another irony is how a politician who wants to have the crime solve is actually a part of the instrumentation. It all adds up to a humorous story that will have you laughing at the situation.

The film also gives you this summer’s biggest WTH moment. That comes when the police interrogate a neighborhood boy who showed his penis to a neighboring porn director who was killed. That’s sexual abuse, right? When I saw the interrogation happening, I was expecting a scene of a sexual abuse victim. Instead, the boy comes across as excited as if his exposing could open up opportunity in porn in the future. That was so bizarre. Just reminds you that the sexual revolution of the 1970’s was that free.

Director Shane Black takes a break from directing superhero movies like Iron Man 3 by directing this crime comedy he co-wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi. It comes off as very humorous in a dark way. I’d like to think he succeeded. Russell Crowe was the right fit for enforcer Jackson Healy. He possessed the right ruggedness for the role. Doing crime comedy is something new for Ryan Gosling but he did a very good job as Holland March. The scene-stealer was young actress Angourie Rice who played daughter Holly March. She did a good job of going just a simple daughter of Holland to all of a sudden one who can best help trace the case and even help solve it, with providing some action of her own. Also a big surprise is seeing Kim Basinger as the politician. I admit it. Like your typical 80’s kid, I always picture Kim as the bombshell she’s most famous for. It was surprising to see her play a role of an older character. I’m not complaining. I think she did quite well.

It is too bad to see that it didn’t make too much at the box office: $57.3 million. There was a time a while back where crime comedies or dark crime dramas were a big hit. I remember the 1990’s were capable of churning out one such movie per year that would be a classic like 1994’s Pulp Fiction, 1995’s The Usual Suspects, 1996’s Fargo and 1997’s L.A. Confidential. Since then, it cooled down. I was hoping this movie would revive some interest in it and rediscover the humor of the crime comedy. Also I feel there’s another message being sent with the lack of success of the film. The 70’s retro in movies has now faded. I know it was very active from the 90’s carried into the 2000’s and showed some muscle at the beginning of this decade but it’s obvious 70’s retro has faded with time.

The Nice Guys is an overlooked comedy from the summer. It’s worth seeing if you have the chance.

Ghostbusters: Answer The Call

ghostbusters-1

From retro 70’s to retro 80’s: the retro phenomenon that still has the most muscle despite retro 90’s encroaching. Now news last year of a Ghostbusters remake featuring an all-female ensemble of Ghostbusters seemed unorthodox at the time. One conservative filmmaker went as far as saying ‘My childhood is ruined.’ However I was willing to give it a chance. I mean this is 2016.

In order to differentiate itself from the original 1984 Ghostbusters, it gave itself the subtitle Answer The Call. Now the big challenge was to decide whether the film was a case of the ghostbusters starting up together or whether these four women were filling the shoes of the men before them. It was decided to be a story where the ghostbusters start fresh. It’s very tempting to compare it to the first Ghostbusters. Actually there’s no escaping it. If you compare the two side-by-side, you will notice a lot of differences. And not just simply the change of genders of the cast. The first is the humor. The new film has humor and lines that are more irreverent that the humor and jokes in the first. The second is the Ghostbuster-wannabe characters. One thing about the first is that the addition of nerd Louis Tully added to the humor of the film. Of course Rick Moranis always specialized in nerdy characters. Having a bimboy character who’s their receptionist play the Ghostbuster wannabe here didn’t fit as well. Plus he wasn’t even that funny. Another is the possessed character scene. I’m sure those of you would agree that the possession of Dana Barrett worked better than the possession of Abby Yates. Even the line “No Dana, only Zuul.” is way more memorable.

Despite the first Ghostbusters being better than the new one in many ways, the second one does have elements that are better than in the first one. The first and most obvious is the better special effects. The film was able to create better and more eye-catching ghosts than they were in the first one. Computer technology has made that big of advances over the years. Another was the rock concert scene. If there was one plus to the movie, it was that where the foursome have to battle a ghost while a rock band was performing. That added to the humor and made it enjoyable.

It’s clear from the start this is a group effort between Paul Feig, Katie Dippold and Melissa McCarthy. This is the third collaboration with the threesome where Feig directs and co-writes, Dippold co-writes and McCarthy acts in. Its often questionable who was the main lead role of the film: whether it was Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert or if it was Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates. I know McCarthy’s star has grown bigger over the years. The addition of two other Saturday Night Live talents Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones make for a good mix of humor.

One thing to note is that personnel of the original Ghostbusters gladly came back for the revamp. There’s Ivan Reitman who’s the co-producer this time around. There’s Bill Murray who makes a cameo as a skeptic to the busters. Dan Aykroyd makes a cameo as a taxi driver, Annie Potts makes a cameo as a crabby hotel clerk, Ernie Hudson appears as Patty’s uncle Bill, even Sigourney Weaver makes a cameo appearance.

Ghostbusters: Answer The Call may not compare to the original. It’s either the freshness or the magic of the first that’s not there. Nevertheless it is enjoyable and does make for some good laughs.

And there’s my summary of the summer’s comedic movies with focus on the two. Hopefully the studios should be able to find the right funny stuff to get the live-action comedy back to being a summer hit next summer.

VIFF 2015 Review: The Classified File (극비수사)

 

The Classified File is a Korean drama that will keep you intrigued.

The Classified File is a Korean drama that will keep you intrigued.

I’ll admit the Vancouver Film Festival ended on October 9th and the VIFF repeats ended October 15th. I was hoping to get most of my reviews done soon but many things happened, like an illness and other tasks of my own I was preoccupied. So you will be getting the last five of my VIFF reviews soon. In the meantime, here’s the latest: for the Korean film The Classified File.

In 1978 in Busan, a young girl to a wealthy family named Eun-Joo is kidnapped. Her abductor demands ransom money. The law enforcement team becomes frustrated as time goes on as there’s no further contact from the kidnapper over two weeks nor any more additional clues. Police assume she’s dead but the family refuse to believe so.

Eun-Joo’s mother turns to renowned fortune teller Kim Joong-San for reassurance. He tells her she’s fine but they will need the help of detective Gong Gil-Yong. Gong is reluctant to take on the case and even more reluctant to consult with the fortune teller but he agrees to take it on. Days go by as he has to wire conversations between Eun-Joo’s family and the abductor. There are even times they have to team up with the police force in Seoul but they face a reluctance from them feeling that this too is a hopeless case.

After four weeks Gong starts developing a sense that maybe Kim’s predictions are helping and could actually help to find Eun-Joo. However time is still moving on and they still don’t have Eun-Joo as the abductor continues to taunt them. Then they get a break. It leads to an exciting end of the story and an ending to the movie that wasn’t expected.

This is another example of foreign movie making. Here it’s a story of a crime drama based from evens almost four decades ago. It keeps one intrigued: a story about an abduction and it continues over a long period of time with consistent taunts from the abductor and wrong leads. The story does have an interesting element where a spiritual guide is ‘hired’ to help solve the crime. I’m sure there have been movies before about spiritual people who try to predict or sense where the victim is or where the criminal is. However very rarely is it a case when a real-life situation is depicted. I’m normally one who doesn’t believe in psychic powers but when I see all this on screen, and I know this is based on true events, I’m tempted to believe in it.

I will say that most films about using sorcery or psychic powers to solve a crime often come off as corny. This one didn’t. It did things right in showing the fortune teller’s purpose without the story becoming idiotic. It also kept the family of Eun-Joo in the story as it added to the drama and gave it a human sense. However the biggest glitch in the movie was the ending. I felt for a crime story full of drama, it ended too soft and mushy. I know it was to show the friendship between the fortune teller and the detective that occurs at the end but still I felt it became mush in the end.

Kwak Kyung-Taek did a good job as a director and co-writer. He’s one director with a big reputation in South Korea creating a lot of popular films. This should add to his resume. However I don’t see it getting too much release elsewhere. Kim Yoon-Seok did a good job as Gong despite not having a spectacular role. Yoo hae-Jin was also good as Kim and even stole a few scenes. The actors playing the family of Eun-Joo were also good. The role of the villain however was underdeveloped.

I will admit that I had expectations on this film. I read in the VIFF guide about how the politics of the time were included in the film. I was anticipated it would represent the politics of the time the same way Nameless Gangster did. It wasn’t to representative. Maybe I shouldn’t have placed that expectation on it.

There are many foreign films that made their international debut at the VIFF. The South Korean crime thriller The Classified File was one of them. It was a good, albeit imperfect, drama.

VIFF 2014 Review: Haemoo (Sea Fog – 해무)

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is a story of romance in the midst of an illegal immigration expedition.

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is a story of romance in the midst of an illegal immigration expedition.

Even though the Vancouver International Film Festival is officially over, I still have four films left to review. Now on with the fourth-last. I have a habit every VIFF to see at least one national entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars. Here at the VIFF I saw Haemoo: South Korea’s official entry. I’m glad I did.

The film begins with Kang Cheol-ju, a captain of a fishing ship the Jeonjinho that’s old, crumbly and is catching less than ever. Because of the low catches in the fishing industry and the difficulties with South Korea’s economy, Kang is in danger of losing his ship and his livelihood. In the meantime one of his crewmen Dong Sik has just joined the boat. He doesn’t see himself pursuing a livelihood as a shiphand and is contemplating construction.

Kang has just received an idea of how to make money for his ship, big money. He’s been offered a deal to go into the illegal trade. He’s willing to involve himself with anything to get him ahead, whether it be illegal jewels or even illegal immigrants. He knows it means going into international waters and possibly get arrested by the coast guard but he believes it will work.

One day after going into international waters they spot a ship full of illegal immigrants from China and North Korea. They have to make the tricky transfer from their ship to the Jeonjinho. Yes, walking across. Thirty or so men and one female make it. However there’s one young frail woman who fell into the water. Dong Sik doesn’t think. He rushes out to save her. After saving Hong Mae from drowning, she along with the other immigrants are fed hot ramen at first. However the police are suspicious of Kang and what his boat is up to. Kang’s already under suspicion for a long history of evading loan sharks. Every time a coast guard boat comes by, he has to hide all the illegals in the fish tank, risking them to suffocating and unhealthy conditions.

The immigrants are unhappy about their treatment but Kang makes an example to the crowd by throwing one in the water and showing them who’s boss. Dong Sik knows that Hong Mae shouldn’t have to deal with such harshness so he finds a safe spot for her. Soon the two fall in love and Dong promises her safety. However it becomes threatened when the immigrants are all put back into the fish pit as a loan shark makes a visit. Dong Sik keeps Hong Mae from entering. After the shark’s visit, it’s discovered all of the immigrants in the pit are dead. It only boosts Kang’s lust for power as he wants them chopped with an axe before being tossed out at sea and their personal belongings burned. One of the crewmen tell him off for what he did only to be killed by Kang.

Hong Mae has seen all that happened and has no trust for anyone, not even Dong Sik at first. Nevertheless Dong Sik promises her safety. He knows Hong Mae will be seen as a lust object or a womanizing sailor and as a threat to Kang as she’ll know the truth. Things only get worse for the Jeonjinho as the power is completely out. Then it’s given away about Dong Sik’s hiding of Hong Mae. As expected Kang feels she’ll land him in jail and the sailor animalistically wants a go at her. Dong Sik knows he has to protect her from the two despite how challenging it is. He knows he will have to kill some of them. However it’s after the Jeonjinho collides with a freighter that solidifies the fates of all and paves the way for an ending that’s unexpected and keeps you thinking long after the movie.

One thing I have to say is that the script is unique for a lot of surprising things. At first you think the film’s protagonist will be Kang because the focus of the story first appears to be about him and his ship. Instead it ends up being about Dong Sik even though he is focused on very little at the beginning. Another unique thing is how the deaths of the immigrants made animals of some of the key shipmen on board. One example is of how Kang first appeared to be a typical authoritarian jerk to the immigrants but soon his lust for control would just make a ruthless animal of him. Even the ship mechanic who was just simply a womanizer made like a mindless dog to Hong Mae and had nothing else on his mind but to have sex with her. Another surprising thing is how the ship is doomed to sink but Kang is determined to keep it afloat despite it being hopeless. It’s almost like Richard III’s “My horse. My horse. My kingdom for a horse.” In the end, the ship becomes the judge, jury and executioner of Kang. And for those who saw it, you’ll know the last surprising thing was the ending. It’s an ending that will leave you asking your own questions. I know it left me with my own questions.

The one thing is that it is a very good movie but it did have its noticeable flaws. First thing is that it makes a good honest effort of making a love story in a scenario that’s hard to stomach. For those who don’t know, this film is based off of an actual illegal immigration case from South Korea in 2001 where a fishing boat carrying illegal immigrants accidentally left 25 dead. The difference between Haemoo and the actual case is that the ship never sank, there were many more surviving illegal immigrants and all the crewmen were brought to justice. Nevertheless it makes the romance too awkward because of the testy subject matter. I know I’ve seen films before that have made what would normally be unwatchable material end as a triumph of the human spirit but I sensed some unevenness in it. Nevertheless this is a very brave attempt.

The biggest accolades for this film should go to director Sung Bo-Shim. Lately South Korean directors are starting to make a name for themselves internationally. The most notable being Boon Joon-Hu who directed the critically acclaimed 2009 Korean film Mother and this year’s English-language film Snowpiercer. This time Boon co-writes the script with Shim in his feature-length directorial debut. It’s an excellent debut. The biggest of the standout actors is Kim Yoon-Seok. Even though he was not the protagonist, he was the scene-stealer as the power-hungry Kang whose lust for power would eventually destroy him. Multitalented Park Yoochun was also impressive as the young Dong Sik who was the only one on the ship who appeared to have any conscience to what was really happening. Han Ye-Ri was also very believable as the young Hong Mae but her best part was definitely the end. The special effects and action parts added to the intensity of the film and the score composed by Jeong Jae-il fit the movie excellently.

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is not a flawless movie or a flawless story. Nevertheless it is an excellent debut from a promising South Korean director. We’ll have to wait until Oscar time to see how it fares.

Sochi 2014: Ten To Watch

Olympic Flame

I can tell that a lot of my visitors liked my blogs to do about the London Olympic Games. Heck, the last time someone clicked on one of my ‘athletes to watch’ blogs from those games was just today! Even my blogs reviewing the London Games of 2012 and the other two times still received recent hits. Seeing that has inspired me to do more Olympic writing. And it definitely inspires me to write about these ones to watch for the Sochi Games of 2014.

I know there’s been a lot of talk about outside factors involving the Sochi Games. In this blog I’m sticking to talking about what the Games are supposed to be about: the athletes. Here are ten athletes who are poised to dazzle us or even thrill us from February 7th to the 22nd.

-Marit Bjorgen/Norway – Nordic Skiing: Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other nation. And it’s no wonder. Winter sports are in their blood with their biggest legacies in Cross Country Skiing, Ski Jumping, Nordic Combined and Long Track Speed Skating. Even recently they’ve been showing excellent prowess in Alpine Skiing and Freestyle Skiing. One of the best female skiers ever, Marit Bjorgen, will be competing in her fourth Olympics here in Sochi.

Marit has an illustrious career starting quietly with silvers in 2002 and 2006. Vancouver 2010 was her moment as she won five medals, three of them gold. She has also won the overall World Cup title three years and nineteen World Championship medals including twelve total gold. At last year’s World Championships, she really had the show in her hands as she won four gold and a silver.

Here in Sochi, she comes with probably the most expectations of any female Nordic skier. She’s expected to perform big and has the credentials for it. However she does face rivalry. She is currently ranked third in the World Cup overall standings with her 25 year-old Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug leading in the distance events and 25 year-old German Denise Herrmann leading in the sprint events. She’s also expected to receive rivalry from her traditional rival Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk. Nevertheless if there’s one female skier who can most rise to the challenge, it’s her.

-Ted Ligety/U.S.A. – Alpine Skiing: The United States has always been a force in Alpine Skiing. This century has seen a lot of big names like Lindsay Vonn, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso. Another name on the list is Ted Ligety. At the 2006 Olympics, Ted came from nowhere to take gold in the combined event. Since then he has been most dominant in the giant slalom event but has had seasons with ups and downs. He was finished on top of the World Cup giant slalom event in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. However he had a lackluster 2010 Winter Olympics where his best finish was fifth. 2013 not only saw him win his fourth World Cup giant slalom title but a third place finish overall and winning three gold medals at the World Championships.

Interesting is that he has his own ski business. As for this season, it hasn’t been so easy for Ted. He’s had four World Cup wins but finds himself fourth overall and third in the giant slalom. He faces a strong challenge from Austrian Marcel Hirscher and France’s Alexis Pinturault in the giant slalom. It will all boil down on each race day. Especially the giant slalom on February 19th.

-Tina Maze/Slovenia – Alpine Skiing: Slovenia has never won a Winter Olympic gold medal. Two silvers and five bronzes but never a gold. That could change thanks to Tina Maze. She has had an excellent career as a skier that includes Slovenia’s two silvers, both won in Vancouver 2010, and six World Cham,pionship medals. Two of them gold. However her biggest year was 2013 when she won three World Championship medals including gold in the Super-G and the World Cup overall title which she won with the highest total points ever.

This season has been a difficult one for her as she has struggled in consistency in races and it wasn’t until just two weeks ago she finally won her first World Cup race of the season: a downhill. She will be hard pressed to repeat her winning with threats from Germany’s Maria Riesch-Hoefl and 18 year-old American sensation Mikaele Shiffrin. Also it may be possible Slovenia’s first ever Winter Olympic gold could be won by another athlete like ski jumper Petr Prevc or snowboarder Žan Košir.  Nevertheless the Olympics can be anyone’s game in Alpine Skiing and it just could be Tina’s.

-Shaun White/U.S.A. – Snowboarding: What else is there to say about the ‘Flying Tomato?’ His has definitely been one of the most popular Winter Olympians in recent years, if not the most. He has won numerous X Games medals, he has made the cover of Rolling Stone twice and is commonly seen in endorsements. Already he has made Olympic history as the first snowboarder to win back-to-back gold medals, in the Halfpipe event. This year is a unique year as he will be trying for a threepeat in the halfpipe.

Shaun has been absent for the 2013 World Championships but has continuous won events in X Games competitions. He is expected to win the halpipe again but he does however face some hungry young guns like Switzerland’s Yuri Podladchikov and Japan’s Taku Hiraoka trying to take him down.

He was also expected to be a top contender in the new slopestyle event this year. However it was not to be as he fell days ago after hitting the rail hard during a training run and was injured. He chose to withdraw from that event but reassures all that he will be ready for the halfpipe. However there have been other boarders who suffered falls on the course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park and their injuries caused them to withdraw before even competing and two even requiring hospitalizing. His fate will be decided on the halfpipe on the 11th.

-Shani Davis/U.S.A. – Long-Track Speed Skating: The threepeat in Olympic Long Track Speed Skating is a feat only accomplished twice and by women. First was by American Bonnie Blair in the 500m from 1988 to 1994. The second was Germany’s Claudia Pechstein in the 5000m from 1994 to 2002. We have the chance for a male to do it here in Sochi with Shani Davis.

Davis has been a speed skater known for a controversial career. First came before the 2002 Winter Olympics when he was a short track speed skater. He finished second in a race at the US Olympic trials but it was under investigation of race fixing between him and club teammates Rusty Smith and Apolo Anton Ohno. It was taken before a court of arbitration and none of the skaters were found guilty. Davis however would not skate in Salt Lake City.

Davis would later switch to long track speed skating and became the fastest at the 1000m. For the 2006 Turin Olympics Davis qualified for three individual events and won gold in the 1000m and silver in the 1500m. However it was his non-participation in the Team Pursuit event that caught a lot of flack. Many people felt he should’ve been put on but David neglected making room for some skaters who were just competing in pursuit. The incident has kept him being at odds with U.S. Speedskating. Under less controversy, Davis again won 1000m gold and 1500m silver.

Here in Sochi, Davis is expected to win 1000m and become the first man to win three consecutive golds in a single event. It’s not without its challenges. At last year’s World Championships, he finished third behind Kazakhstan’s Denis Kuzin and South Korea’s Mo Tae Bum. However Davis has won the 1000m in three of the four World Cup meets this year. Plus he is still strong in the 1500m winning silver at last years’ Worlds. It will all be decided at the Adler Oval.

-Germany’s Luge Relay Team: There are five new events at the Sochi Winter Olympics. One of which is the Team Relay event in the luge. In this event there’s one male luger, one female and one doubles team. Each have a single run but when one luger finishes their run, they hit a touch-sensitive pad to open the start gate for the next sled of the team. Fastest total time wins. It should be no surprise that Germany is the team expected to win. German lugers have won 27 of the 40 gold medals in luge since it was added to the Olympics back in 1964. Germany also won all three singles and doubles categories at last year’s World Championships. So it’s no surprise they won the Team Relay at those championships too using the sledders that won the single-sled competitions in the relay.

One thing we should take note is that the relay will take place the day after the last single-sled competition–men’s doubles–will be held. It is possible that the three World Championship-winning sledders–Felix Loch in men’s singles, Natalie Giesenberger in women’s singles, and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt–could either win gold or be Germany’s best finisher in their respective event and thus on the relay team. But anything can happen in the heat of Olympic competition and there could be a different German competitor that finishes best on the team. Whatever sledders they include in the relay, you can be sure they’ll win it.

-Kim Yu-Na/South Korea – Figure Skating: Those of you remember the Vancouver Winter Olympics will remember a figure skater from South Korea named Kim Yu Na. She not only won gold but took figure skating to a new level of excellence with new world records in points. She became the first South Korean to win a figure skating medal.

Continuing after the Vancouver Olympics has not been easy. There was period for the first few years she lacked motivation and even sat out the 2011-2012 season. By the 2012-2013 season, she decided to return not just to competition but to her childhood coaches back in Korea. It was successful as she returned to her title of World Champion winning by the biggest margin since the new scoring system was adopted in 2005.

However the 2013-2014 season has been rather challenging. She actually had to drop out of the Skate Canada competition because of a metatarsal injury on her right foot. She recovered in time to compete at the Golden Spin of Zagreb competition in December and won. Nevertheless she’s expected to be rivaled by Japan’s Mao Asada who won silver behind her in Vancouver, 15 year-old Russian newcomer Julia Lipnitskaya who just won the European Championships and American Gracie Gold. Kim plans on becoming a member of the IOC after the Sochi Games. In the meantime, she has one last thing to prove in the Olympic stage.

-Sara Takanashi/Japan – Ski Jumping:  Women’s Ski Jumping makes its debut in Sochi. There will be only one event: the Normal Hill. The heavy favorite to win is 17 year-old jumper Sara Takanashi. Last year she won the World Cup in women’s Ski jumping and won a silver medal in the Normal Hill event losing to American Sarah Hendrickson. This year Takanashi has had a stellar year with ten international victories including her most recent wins last weekend in Austria.

Despite her stellar year, she is not alone at the top. She’s expected to receive a challenge from American Sarah Hendrickson who beat her at the World Championships as well as challenges from Austria’s Jacqueline Seifriedsberger and Germany’s Carina Vogt. Nevertheless it will all be decided at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre. Watch herstory be made February 11th.

-Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov/Russia – Figure Skating: You can’t expect a list of athletes to watch not to include those from the host country, can you? Russia has a legacy in pairs figure skating going back as far as the days of the U.S.S.R. It all started with the Protopopovs in 1964 and 1968. It continued with Irina Rodnina and her male partners from 1972 to 1980. Continuing on in 1984, the dominance continued even after the break-up of the U.S.S.R. as pairs competing for Russia would continue to finish on top. By the 21st century it looked like Russia’s dominance was waning as a Russian pair tied a Canadian pair for the gold in 2002 and the Russian pair that won gold in 2006 was the only Russian pair to even make the podium. Then in Vancouver 2010, not a single Russian pair made it on the podium for the first time since 1960.

With the Sochi Olympics coming, you could bet they want to bring Russia back on top in pairs figure skating and they found it in the pair of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. Back at the Vancouver Olympics, they not only skated with different partners but different countries. Maxim finished in 7th competing for Russia and Tatiana finished 8th competing for Ukraine. She then made the trip to Russia shortly after Vancouver when it became obvious there were no male partners in Ukraine for her to progress further. Since her teaming up with Trankov, it’s been victorious as the two won world Championship silvers in 2011 and 2012 and then won the World last year: the first Russian pair since 2005 to win the World Championships.

This year the pair have been solid winning all but one of the five competitions they’ve entered. They come to Sochi as the heavy favorites and the ones to bring Russian superiority back to pairs figure skating. However it will not go unchallenged as their top threat has been their traditional rivals of Germany’s Savchenko and Szolkowy who were World Champions in 2011 and 2012 and have given the Russians their only loss this season. Nevertheless it will all be decided at the Iceberg Skating Palace on the 11th and 12th.

-Russia’s National Hockey Team (men and women): I’m sure all of you can remember the days of Soviet dominance in ice hockey. Ever since the U.S.S.R. started competing at the winter Olympics in 1956, their hockey team was invincible with players that were better than even the best NHL pros. In the ten Winter Olympics they played, they won eight times losing only to the Americans in the two Olympics the U.S.A. hosted in 1960 and 1980. Since the Unified Team’s win of the gold in 1992, Russia has since found itself amongst equals in the hockey world but have not returned to the top. Since Russia first competed on their own starting in 1994, the men’s hockey team have only won 1998 silver and 2002 bronze with the gold medals divided amongst Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic.

This time Russia has the whole nation expecting them to win here. And I mean whole. Even Vladimir Putin told Aleksandr Ovechkin that he wants to see Russia’s team win the gold. Sixteen of the 25 members play for the NHL. Other NHL stars on the team including Ovechkin are Evgeny Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk. The other nine players are from Russian professional leagues. They come to Sochi as 2012 World Champions and they’re expected to repeat here, even though they finished off the podium last year. It is possible as the men’s competition is usually a competition of at least six equals. Sports Illustrated predicts Sweden to win with Russia coming in second and Canada third. Only the next two weeks will tell the tale.

As for the women, women’s hockey has traditionally been a case of Canada vs. the U.S. with one other Scandinavian team as a lightweight rival. Russia has only competed in three of the four times women’s hockey has been contested and has never made the semi-finals. The women are hoping things will change especially after winning bronze at last year’s World Championships. The women have nowhere else to go but up and I’m confident they can make their country proud here.

So there you have it. Those are ten athletes to watch out for in Sochi. I know they’re not guaranteed to win. I know the Olympics that the gold medal doesn’t go to the one with the most pre-Games accolades. The gold medal goes to the one who’s the most there at that moment. Nevertheless it will be interesting to see whether they seize it or not these two weeks.

Also those of you wondering why no Canadians on my list? Well I have a separate blog of Canadians to watch.

VIFF 2013 Review: The Rocket

Ahlo, a Lao boy, attempts to win a rocket-launching contest to bring his family good fortune in The Rocket.

Ahlo, a Lao boy, attempts to win a rocket-launching contest to bring his family good fortune in The Rocket.

The Rocket is Australia’s official entry for the Best Foreign language Film category for the Academy Awards. The question is how does it fare as a film?

The story revolves a young Laotian boy named Ahlo. Ahlo’s birth is supposed to be a happy occasion but is not as a stillborn twin is born shortly after. Even though Ahlo is the one who survived, the grandmother is still suspicious of him, believing that a twin can either be good luck or bad luck.

Ten years pass. Ahlo is a typical normal boy in his Laotian village protected by a dam from an Australian corporation. However all residents in the village have to relocate as the corporation is proposing a second dam which will flood the village. All the villagers including Ahlo, his parents and grandmother pack up to walk to their new home planned by the corporation. It’s a long walk to the area and they have to use a boat to transport their goods. Unfortunately while going up a hill, they lose grip of their boat and it hits the mother, killing her. Once again the grandmother feels Ahlo is a bad luck child. Even the father feels that sense.

When they reach the top of the hill, they learn their settlements are not finished, leaving everyone to create a temporary village of makeshift shelters for themselves. Ahlo continues to get himself into trouble and damages many properties. However he does find a friend in a young girl named Kia. Kia lives with her eccentric uncle in a small shack. She is an orphan, losing her parents to malaria and has a fear of water. Her eccentric uncle is a James Brown fan who dons his hairstyle and a purple outfit in his like. They make Ahlo feel welcome but the uncle is also shunned by the village, including Ahlo’s father who warns him to stay. Both cause problems: Ahlo with constantly getting into mischief whether with Kia or himself and Purple for stealing electricity. It’s right after Ahlo damages sacred areas in the village that they’re all chased out.

The five of them–Ahlo, the father, the grandmother, Kia and Purple–reluctantly travel to another rural village together. The village is only temporary as it is on an area littered with undetonated bombs that belonged to Americans during the Vietnam War. The father contemplates taking the family to the city where they can find labor jobs. This would mean Ahlo would never be able to see Kia or Purple again.

Ahlo gets an idea when he learns about an annual rocket launching contest held by the nearby village. The prize money is good enough for all to start a new life anywhere. Ahlo wants to make a rocket of his own but most believe it would be both dangerous and impossible for a child to construct a winning rocket for the contest. However Purple believes differently and gives Ahlo an idea. The father builds a rocket of his own to prevent Ahlo from entering. However Ahlo is stubborn enough to saw off a bamboo bush and get bat dung from a bat cave to make it.

The festival starts and Ahlo is still at work on his rocket. The contest is pretty chancy. The rocket has to fly straight in the air. If a rocket fails, the flyer is humiliated by being thrown into the muddy river. The contest is also dangerous as seen when one man’s rocket explodes with him launching. The result of the contest ends with a somewhat predictable moment. Many would have guessed the ending by now. However the full ending is a total surprise and a delight.

I will admit that this is a common formula of a person beating the odds to win. We’ve seen it before. However this does take a different turn of events. This is not simply about a simple child trying to win a contest. This is more about a boy considered a ‘bad luck charm’ trying to win good fortune to his family after so much misfortune has happened to them. The setting of an impoverished location like the bomb-ridden valleys of Laos may give some reminders of Slumdog Millionaire. The superstitious attitude of the Lao people comes off as a bit foolish. I guess it’s also here where the movie is attempting to defy the superstitions.

Some may see it as a family movie since this is a story of a boy who’s able to help his family out. However there are some things that many may feel are too dark or a discussion starter from children that’s too soon to happen. I’m sure if children saw this, they may ask about the country of Laos and why the people had to be moved. The images of all those bombs I feel is also too much for the children. Also questions about Lao tradition and believe, of why Ahlo suspect of being a ‘bad luck’ child because he’s a twin, will also be things parents would not be prepared to answer.

It’s interesting that this film is Australia’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars but it’s not in say one of the languages of the indigenous of Australia. Instead it’s in the Lao language. Also interesting is that it takes place completely in Laos. The Australian things about this film is that it was done by an Australian director and the films plot includes an Australian corporation building a dam which causes the Lao villagers to move. Once again this is a case of a film making one think about what would define a film from another country, especially one that’s running in such a category. It’s just like last year where Canada’s nominee Rebelle was a story situated in Congo and the winner Amour was an entry from Austria because of Austrian director Michael Haneke even though it was situated in France and in the French language. I guess that category is always subject for discussion.

One thing to take note of is that Laos has never submitted an entry into the Best Foreign language Film category ever. I don’t think that they would want to do it with this film as it makes Laos look like an impoverished country with undetonated bombs all over the place. A bit of trivia: director Kim Mordaunt once did a documentary released in 2007 called Bomb Harvest of Laos being a dumping ground of unused bombs by Americans during the Vietnam War. One thing to note is that Australia isn’t shown as the good guy as it’s an Australian corporation causing the people to relocate themselves.

This was very good work from Australian director Kim Mourdant. She has already had experience as an actress including being a former cast member of Australia’s famous drama series Home And Away. She’s started writing and directing in recent years. I’m unfamiliar with her previous works but this film is very well-written and well-thought out. She has to be very familiar with Lao culture and Lao tradition in order for this to look true. A great performance from newcomer Sitthiphon Disamoe. A street kid in real life, Disamoe is an excellent discovery for this film. Loungnam Kaosainam is also great and charming as Kia. Most of the main actors are newcomers with the exceptions of Sumrit Warin and Alice Keohavong, a Lao-Australian actress with a healthy resume in film, television and theatre.

The Rocket follows a familiar premise but adds its own elements into it. It makes for an impressive film that will cause you to think but also keep your faith in hope.

Movie Review: War Witch (Rebelle)

Rebelle

This is the third year in a row a film representing Canada has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The film’s title is Rebelle (English title: War Witch) and it’s a surprisingly good film.

The film is set in Southern Africa: possibly the Congo. Komona is a young pregnant girl at fourteen telling her life story to her unborn baby. It all starts at 12 where she is captured by the rebel army and ordered to become a child soldier. The first order she’s given is to kill her parents. Since then she’s now the war lord’s. She’s constantly on the battlefront with the rebel squad’s killing missions. Her killing prowess wins her praise from the rebel leader Commandant-Rebelle and he even names her ‘War Witch’. However she’s haunted by the ghosts of those she killed. Including her parents.

At 13, she meets Magicien: a boy with albinism who will change her life forever. The two fall in love and agree to escape. Magicien wants to marry her but she insists on the promise she made to her uncle; if a man is to marry her, he must give her a white rooster. It almost appears to be an impossible task until Magicien comes across a community of people with albinism. There he finds a man willing to give him a white rooster. There’s just one catch. The rooster has to be let free and he has to catch it. Magicien accepts the challenge with the villagers watching. After a lengthy try, he does catch it. Komoma is his.

Soon the solitude and hope for a better future is under threat. She still has images of the ghosts of her parents. And the warlords capture Magicien and Komona. They order her to kill Magicien but she can’t bring herself to do so. Magicien is then killed by the war lords and she is kept captive. She knows she would have to kill her way out. She succeeds so just after the ‘rape trap’ she created works on the soldier who almost raped her. She escapes after killing him to the help of her uncle and aunt. It’s after the birth of her child she has to find a way to make peace with the past and rid herself of her parents’ ghosts for herself and her child.

A common theme shown in films and movies is seeing the images of beauty and hope in the midst of ugliness. This film features a modern ugliness in the world: child soldiers in African countries participating in fighting. It may be a civil war or a rebel mission but it’s ugly. Many like Komona are ordered to kill their parents and are a permanent part of the army. It’s a childhood stolen. Even some of the girl soldiers end up being victims of rape amongst the leaders. This film does show the ugliness that Komona experiences but it also shows moments of hope that she can break free from her captivity. We see it in her romance with Magicien. It’s a unique moment when two children ordered to be killers drop their guns and fall in love. We see it in the birth of her baby. We see it in the end as she’s on a truck full of people cradling her baby. Moments of beauty in the ugliest of time is the film’s biggest quality. We see it and feel it.

Another accomplishment of the film is its ability to make what’s normally unwatchable watchable. No one wants to see a child soldier who’s forced to kill her won parents. No one wants to see a child being raped, even though the actual act of intercourse is hidden. Nobody wants to see a young girl giving birth in the middle of nowhere. It’s realities but the type of realities that we don’t want to know about. What redeems it is the images of hope I just talked about. It’s those qualities in the movie that makes a movie full of unwatchable realities be watchable.

The direction and writing of Kim Nguyen is the best quality of the film. Born of a Vietnamese father and a Quebecois mother, this is only his fourth feature film but this looks to be the one he’s able to make a name for himself. This film shows all the right moments and presents the story excellently to the point that the images of the ghosts are seen as an important part of the film instead of something ridiculous. Also good is the acting of actress Rachel Mwanza. Interestingly is that she herself was abandoned by her parts and was a street child in the Congo. She did an excellent acting job here with no phoniness. The acting of Alain Lino Mic El Bastien and Serge Kanyinda was also very good. The inclusion of both a score and African folk music also added to the atmosphere of the film.

Rebelle has already generated a lot of buzz outside of its Oscar nomination. It was in competition for the Golden Bear award at last year’s Berlin Film Festival and Rachel Mwanza won a Silver Bear for her acting performance as well as a Best Actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival. Other accolades it has received are Best Film from the Cambridge Film Festival, ranked in the Top 5 foreign language films for the National Board of Review awards and nominated for five Canadian Screen Awards; Canada’s own Oscars formerly known as the Genies.

Seeing how a movie situated in Africa makes for some interesting discussion how it can become an official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for Canada. It is because director Kim Nguyen is from Quebec. If you have seen the film, you’d notice that none of it is situated in Canada nor is there any mention of Canada in the screenplay. There’s some dialogue in French with the rest being in Lingala but that’s it. The Best Foreign Language Film category is a category that is always under frequent debate. First there’s the imposed limit of one film for every country submitting an entry into that category. Then there’s the language question. I guess it will continue to be a topic of discussion over the years.

Rebelle is an excellent story of finding hope and the survival of the human spirit in one of the darkest situations in the world around right now. Its story of love and hope is its best quality and makes it all that more memorable.

Kim Jong-il’s Death Leaves An Uncertain North Korea

The news was revealed on December 17th. Kim Jong Il was dead. At first, people thought it was a hoax. Later it became official news. Even images of his body lying in state while North Koreans mourn him have made it official. His successor is his third and youngest son, 28 year-old Kim Jong Un. He has officially assumed the office on December 24th just days before his father’s funeral. The big question is will Kim Jong Un be able to rule the tiny, private, separatist country the way his father has or will North Korea find its grip succumbing to the times?

The nation of North Korea has existed since 1948. Korea was under Japanese occupation for decades before World War II and existed as a nation after World War II ended. However it was divided at the 38th parallel under a United Nations agreement with the Soviet Union occupying the north part and the democratized world occupying the south part. It was the communist North’s refusal to participate in a 1948 UN-supervised election that led to the two Koreas being separate and Kim Il Sung being the leader of what established as the Democratic People’s Republic.

North Korea is not only unique for having only three heads of state in its existence but also from the same family: first Kim Il Sung, then Kim Jong Il and now Kim Jong Un. During Kim Il Sung’s reign, he wreaked havoc of his own. The two Koreas tried to control each other during the first few years of existence. Its escalating border conflicts led the North to invade the South which kicked off the Korean War: a civil war that lasted three years, included support for the south from UN-backed countries like the US, the UK and Canada, and left a total of over 2,000,000 soldiers and civilians dead and the borders restructured as originally planned with a heavily-armed Korean Demilitarized Zone protecting the borders. Despite the peace, relations between the North and South have been tense as was common during the Cold War times and still remain tense to this day. The North has attempted many times to assassinate leaders of the South, North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics as Seoul was the host city, and has even attempted to develop its own nuclear weaponry. Even as the South adopted a Sunshine Policy in 1998 to moderate for peace, that hasn’t stopped the North from uttering threats and causing international tension.

During the time of Kim Il Sung, he developed a ‘cult of personality’ status that would even make some of the heads of state of most other Communist countries envious. He adopted the title of the ‘Great Leader’: a title repeated constantly amongst the citizens of North Korea of all three Kims. Glorification of him replaced all religion in North  Korea. Even after his death in 1994, he’s still referred to as the ‘Eternal President’ and his birthday is a national holiday in North Korea. As a ruler, he came across as the familiar tyrant we know Kim Jong Il to have been through his own methods. During the first years of his reign, he issued a command economy with all industry owned by the state and all agriculture collectivized. His economy was focused on peasants and workers and was aimed at eliminating class differences. Heavy industry and arms production were also predominant as was a large army. While the USSR and China were moving away from de-Stalinization, Kim was infuriated and began distancing North Korea from the two countries, even denouncing any reconciliation or peace attempts with the United States. The times from 1979 onward were very hard for North Korea as China moved towards economic reform and the European Communist countries including the USSR were exercising political reforms that led to the eventual overthrow of Communism. This led Kim Il Sung to make North Korea even more isolated: an isolation that still exists to this day. Its economy was soon hurting and Kim Il Sung was investing in nuclear arms production: a process Kim was fiercely protective of up until a month before his sudden death in July of 1994.

Kim Jong Il was named by Kim Il Sung back in 1980 to be his successor and eventually succeeded his father after his death. Kim Jong Il would wreak the havoc most people are currently familiar with during his reign from his father’s death up until his own death on the 17th. He would keep the heated ‘cold war’ between South Korea alive and well with constant condemnation and threats of war. He too was heavy on developing nuclear military prowess, resisting UN demands to inspect facilities and even threatening a war if North Korea was imposed sanctions. His military prowess kept on growing by number of soldiers and weaponry the Military First policy he adopted. The policy would continue in existence even as the people in North Korea had to deal with flooding in the 1990’s which lead to a huge reduction in arable land and eventually a famine that left anywhere from 1 million to 3 1/2 million North Koreans dead. Relationships with the United States weren’t any nicer either as Kim would still portray the US as the bad guy and George W. Bush referring to North Korea as part of the ‘axis of evil’. Even as relationships appeared to be improving one moment, things appeared to go wrong the next.

Now Kim Jong Un assumes the role as the ‘great leader’ of North Korea. Over the past two weeks, we’ve learned more about him. He attended school in Switzerland as a child, has a degree in computer science and has a military rank as general. He has two older half-brothers but it was believed by many through his personal character that he was most likely to be Kim Jong Il’s successor. In 2009, it was made official by Kim Jong Il. Since Kim Jong Il’s death, it has become a reality as title after title from North Korea’s government is now being bestowed on the younger Kim. Since the funeral and transition, the media has kept a watchful eye on North Korea and Kim Jong Un. There have been countless headlines leaving one to question the state where North Korea is going:

  • 24th – North Korea To Be Center Of Japan – China Talks
  • 26th – Kim Jong Un Meets With South Korean Delegation
  • 27th – North Asks South Korea For Money At Kim Jong Il’s Funeral
  • 27th – North Calls For Enactment of Investment Pact
  • 30th – Military Says South Korea Will ‘Pay For Hideous Crimes’

Once again, headline after headline that differ, confuse and even make people question about what the North will do next. Also in question is Kim Jong Un’s reign as the new leader. Does a dictator that’s not even 30 have what it takes to run a nation with a Stalinist style governing? Will North Korea still be a fierce hermit to the rest of the world? Will North Korea’s relations continue to be fiery and even lead to the ‘war’ North Korea keeps on talking about? Or will things open up and lead to progress and improvements in North Korea, especially its citizens’ way of life? Those are answers that can only be made as time moves on. Nevertheless it’s important for all to keep a watchful eye on events that unfold.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: North Korea. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korea>

WIKIPEDIA: Kim Il Sung. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Il-sung>

WIKIPEDIA: Kim Jong Il. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il>