Friday, May 15, 2009

THE CHASER and CADAVER: shudders from Korea come to the IFC Midnight series


The welcome IFC Midnight series proceeds apace with two troubling and creepy genre movies from Korea -- THE CHASER, a relatively complex serial killer thriller, and CADAVER a ghost story in which spirits-of-the-dead begin performing their own autopsies on the living. IFC Midnight collects some of the better genre films from around the world (horror, thriller, sci-fi and erotic-arthouse) that have made festival splashes but may not be quite big enough for prime-time play dates.

IFC then gives them a chance to be seen at home, On-Demand (sometimes with a small theatrical release).

South Korean cinema was the hot new thing a few years back, but its commercial wave seems to have crested around the time of The Host -- which means little in terms of either the quality or originality of the what's still coming out of South Korea. Rather, it indicates that our cultural guardians, ever demanding of the new and the novel, have moved on to... Romania? (Whoops: that was two years ago.) Italy? (Though they're currently enjoying some arthouse popularity in the U.S., Gomorrah and Il Divo rocked Cannes last year.) Iran? (Please: you're at least a decade behind the times, and in any case, The Song of Sparrows did not make much of a recent wave at the box-office.)

My point here is that these countries, and many more, though off the current critical radar, continue to produce interesting films worth seeing. But without the crack combo of quality, timing and luck that makes a movie a critical and arthouse hit, good films from all over the world continue to languish unseen. Which is why we should particularly appreciate what IFC is doing for these genre movies.

Playing in a number of festivals and winning a slew of awards on its home ground, The Chaser is a good, though not great, genre movie about a particularly creepy serial killer (shown, right). The guy is crazy, but because he's also young and relatively attractive with a manner than moves from maniacal to modest (at times, he's damn near gracious), he gets away (and away and away) with murder. He's tracked by an ex-cop who now runs a stable of call girls -- one of whom (the cutie below left) is the latest victim, so we are clearly in murky moral territory. As the movie moves along, the ground keeps shifting more dangerously (and I am not talking about earthquakes). This is Korea, so cultural differences -- from how police brutality is handled to the speed with which cops respond to a 911-type call -- take on their own meaning.

The Chaser is the first film of a new director, Hong-jin Na, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Visually, and in terms of construction, performances and pacing, the movie is almost shockingly well-done. For awhile. This may be but another of those cultural differences, yet I've noticed that most Korean films, good ones on down, are long. It's rare to find one coming in under two hours. (The Chaser lasts 125 minutes.) In the U.S. (and elsewhere in western societies) the genre film is generally short, tight, fast and very focused. Under 90 minutes is often de rigueur. This would have helped The Chaser immensely because, finally, the movie just wears you down. All the blood and pain and "We've got him!" "No, we don't!" becomes repetitive, and just when things ought to be ending, they're cresting, then ebbing, and then cresting again. There's a lot of good stuff here -- just too much of it -- but I've got to recommend the movie, nonetheless.

Oddly enough, Cadaver, directed by Sohn Tae-wung -- though less original -- proves equally as successful due to gorgeous visuals, committed performances and (oddest of all) its languid pacing. Normally, I'd be screaming, "Get on with it!" but here, I was happy to sit back and bask, as a group of new med students (above) find themselves in the midst of some supernatural goings-on, which are due, as usual in these variations on J-and-K-horror, to something naughty that someone did back when.

The entire cast, from the older doctors who figure in the plot to the young kids, is quite attractive. One young actor in particular -- On Ju-wan, shown at right and below -- has a face so beautiful, it almost looks like animation. (Has he been CGI-ed, perhaps?) Corpses pile up, one by one, as the students try desperately to get to the bottom of things. We feel their pain -- the living and the dead -- and eventually we understand (but maybe not quite everything or even all of one thing). I find that the genre films from Korean and Japan to reach our shores tend toward the dark, and these two are no exceptions. Proceed at your own risk.

Neither Cadaver nor The Chaser is getting any theatrical release, so at-home on-demand is not just your best, but your only, bet. The Chaser is available now through July 7, while Cadaver begins next Wednesday, May 20, and will be available through August 18.

Look for the films on the cable systems below in their quadrants noted:

BrightHouse: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters
Cablevision: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters - Festival Direct
Comcast: Channel 1 - Movies & Events - IFC Festival Direct
Cox: Channel 1 - Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters
Time Warner: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters

"Cadaver" photo credits: Sung-hui Jin and Ji-hye Lim.
Both movies under review are IFC Films releases.

4 comments:

GHJ - said...

Jim- Just watched Chaser, and wow, it was intense. Incredibly cynical and yet not, a ton to admire with this one. Maybe the most heinous serial killer of the modern age, aided by the failures of every state run institution. Ripe for analysis. Thanks for recommending it.

James van Maanen, said...

Glenn-- did you see it On-Demand or is it out on DVD by now? And yes, those failures of state-run institutions do add up. I try to piece together from Korean movies just what is going on (or not) in the society. While South Korea is probably preferable to the North, I have to say I am not overly impressed...

GHJ - said...

Blockbuster has it available on their Exclusive line, the IFC releases only for rent from them. That's where I catch most of the films that have been On Demand. I've tried watching them ON Demand and for whatever reason, Cox doesn't offer them in HD or Widescreen, so the image is smaller than usual. Doesthis happen to you? A big disappointment. So I just wait for DVD.

James van Maanen, said...

A Blockbuster Exclusive? I should have realized. I haven't set foot in a BB store for some time now. That "exclusive" thing really roils me more and more. "Restraint-of-trade," I call it. So until Netflix or other video stores (ARE there any other video stores left? My little one here in Jackson Heights is alive but struggling mightily) get the titles in stock -- months and months later -- I'll have to miss 'em I guess.

I agree with you re On-Demand, I can't even get my wide-screen TV (using both the TV's own remote, and Time Warner's) to open up and zoom the picture to fill the screen -- which, in any case, would lessen the detail and sharpness. But sometimes I relent and rent anyway. Just watched IN THE LOOP for the second time, and enjoyed it even more because I could occasionally track back and get a line of that funny/nasty dialog I'd missed. And it's not that "gorgeously" visual a movie, so the difference between TV and DVD is less noticeable, I suspect.