Friday, May 30, 2008


Today’s forecast: overblown disaster with high probability of suck. Typhoon squanders a relatively big budget and two bankable stars on a far-fetched action thriller with plot holes a mile deep.

It’s clear from the opening scene of North Korean orphans seeking asylum in a European consulate in China (huh?) that the movie will remain inscrutable to all but the most patient and forgiving of viewers. One of the hapless orphans grows up to be a vindictive, glowering pirate (the excellent Dong-Kun Jang from The Coast Guard) intent on wreaking havoc on the South Korean countrymen who turned their backs on him as a child. No, not a Jack Sparrow pirate; a mean, modern-day pirate with access to sophisticated weapons and technology. His diabolical plan involves stealing a ship carrying enough nuclear material to obliterate millions of South Koreans, although his fanciful delivery system involves hundreds of balloons that are supposed to float peacefully over the country to deliver their deadly payload.

Our gallant hero is a brave Naval officer (the also strong Jung-Jae Lee from Il Mare) who seems to be the only person in the world able to locate and identify the pirate. His ace in the hole is the discovery of the pirate’s long-lost sister, who he soon retains to use as bait to lure in the baddie. Of course the pirate can’t resist the chance to reconnect with his only remaining living relative, which sets up a showdown between the two men that leads to something of a mutual admiration society instead of a deadly resolution to their faceoff. Will the villain succeed with his master plan? Will the officer uphold his duty or follow his kinship with the villain? Will anyone care by the time the bloated film reaches its conclusion?

It’s great to see a sizeable budget thrown at a project of this nature, but instead of worrying about hiring fancy extras such as a dedicated tattoo makeup artist they should have focused on the script and direction. The story is a muddle that hits recognizable notes every one in a while but fails to materialize into a logical or powerful whole. The direction is all about the bombast of the film’s big action scenes at the expense of its already weak story development, almost like the director realized the script was hokey and just wanted to get some big moments onscreen. Regrettably, there’s not even anything cutting-edge or memorable about the action, it’s mostly just big dumb explosions without any finesse. Also, the film’s score is so overwrought and overreaching for emotional intensity in spite of any dramatic fireworks onscreen that it serves as a distraction rather than a suitable complement.

Typhoon is now available on DVD. It includes numerous special features about the film’s production.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Dirty Carnival

No, this isn’t about an X-rated circus; it’s an unadulterated gangster flick from South Korea. In spite of its inexplicable title, A Dirty Carnival presents a gritty if fairly conventional tale of a rising young mobster in his quest for success. A far more fitting title would have been “Korean Gangster”, although this criminal never rises to the heights of Frank Lucas in the similarly themed American Gangster.

Byung-du (Cho In Sung) is a low-ranking thug working for a mid-level boss, desperate for a bigger cut of the action but unsure of how to obtain it. He runs a small crew of ruffians who don’t really respect him, and he’s constantly struggling to make ends meet with his limited taste of the income. When fate presents him with the chance to impress the big boss by solving a legal problem in a particularly ruthless fashion, his rise to the top seems secure. However, his longtime friendship with an aspiring writer/director threatens to unravel his march to the top when his past sins come back to haunt him on the silver screen. Along the way, he also attempts to woo a classy young lady from his past, desperately attempting to downplay his criminal involvement to win the girl of his dreams.

As the star, Cho contributes a vacuous and reserved performance, suitable for the role but not worthy of any accolades. His girlfriend is similarly dull, giving their interactions all the impact of a TV drama rather than providing any big-screen fireworks. The rest of the cast puts in serviceable performances, with only the big boss contributing memorable gravitas to his role.

Writer/director Yoo Ha keeps the film from lagging in spite of its nearly 2 ½ hour length, maintaining a fine pace and avoiding unnecessary side plots. The limited romance aspect is mostly a waste of time, but clearly helps the audience to identify with Byung-du’s hope for a stable home life in spite of his deadly work environment. The movie within the movie (Byung-du’s scriptwriter friend’s production) reinforces Yoo Ha’s own goal to keep it gangster rather than relying on over-the-top stuntwork when Byung-du instructs the team on the finer points of brutal gangland brawls. This focus on realism rather than flash gives the film suitable dramatic weight and contributes to a winning production.

A Dirty Carnival is now available on DVD. It’s short on extras, featuring only a few deleted scenes and behind the scenes footage on the making of the action scenes.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Classic Caballeros Collection

This Caballero couldn’t pass up the chance to review the adventures of my fellow Caballero amigos in their rollicking new DVD collection. Disney’s Classic Caballeros Collection combines the barely feature length movies Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros in one affordable package, and also includes some welcome extras. The features clearly show their age, but their entertainment value is timeless.

In Saludos Amigos, Walt Disney takes a team of animators down to South America where they look for new inspiration, a trip that resulted in the four animated shorts interspersed with the live action travel footage. First up is Lake Titicaca, an amusing short that finds Donald Duck struggling with an obstinate llama high in the Bolivian Andes. The next short, Pedro, recounts the adventure of a brave little mail carrier airplane as he fights through a storm and the rugged Andes to deliver the mail. It’s not particularly memorable, but the plane is cute enough. El Gaucho Goofy follows the blueprint of most of Goofy’s classic “How To” cartoons, with a narrator describing the action while Goofy reacts onscreen. This time he demonstrates a Latin American riding technique as well as the proper use of a bolero. It fits his canon well, but the animation quality is below par. Finally, in Aquarela do Brasil, the colorful parrot Jose Carioca makes his debut as he introduces viewers to his native Brazil in a music-filled, artistic short that would almost be at home in Fantasia.

As a whole, Saludos Amigos doesn’t really hold together and really seems more like a platform to cobble together shorts into a theatrical feature. The travel footage is decidedly archaic, but it holds some interesting anthropological value for any viewers looking for a trip down memory avenida.

While Saludos Amigos is fairly straightforward and logical, The Three Caballeros is a bizarre trip to the psychedelic side of Disney’s work. It fits squarely in the realm of Alice in Wonderland and especially the unforgettable “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence from Dumbo. Even the structure of the film barely holds any logic, with Donald receiving a huge birthday present in the mail from South America that mysteriously contains one acid-fueled adventure after the other. It starts out relatively tame, with introductory shorts like The Flying Penguin and The Cold-Blooded Gauchito, but then careens into its final half as a fever-induced Latin American fiesta that throws all attempts at sensible plot progression out the window. Donald is joined by bird amigos Jose Carioca and Panchito in their mad adventures around the continent. Unlike Saludos Amigos, it’s almost entirely animated save one especially insane dance number near its end. I was really surprised by this film as I know I saw it in my youth but completely forgot or never realized just how out there it is. Recommended for late night viewing, but maybe not so much for the younger set.

The DVD includes more of the travel footage of Walt and his animators, as well as an extremely brief interview with Walt about the films, followed by two additional Donald Duck shorts not included in the films (but available in his Walt Disney Treasures DVD collections): Don Donald and Contrary Condor.

Classic Caballeros Collection is now available on DVD.

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