Thursday, January 9, 2014

Park Hong-soo's COMMITMENT, in theaters now, screens FREE at Tribeca Cinemas next Tuesday....

Oh, boy: I'ts another movie from South Korea in which those poor North Koreans are sent spying on their southern brothers, are left twisting in the wind (or worse) by their own government and then finally cut loose to be killed by either the South or other spies from the North. Ah, fun. Sent from North to South on a mission of espionage, an imprisoned 18-year-old boy agrees to do this job on the promise that his younger sister will be safe and then let go when he returns. If only. Betrayal is everywhere here. Says the older North Korean spy to his younger counterpart as he shoves a knife into the boy's chest, "Don't you know, you naive kid, that nobody ever goes home." 

As directed (and maybe written: I can't find any writing credit on the IMDB's post) by Park Hong-soo (shown scratching his head at right), the new film COMMITMENT, a box-office bonanza in its home country, should please quite a few folk over here, too. It moves at a very speedy pace, includes a number of fine and violent action sequences, and has the added hook of partially taking place in a South Korean high school, where resides a particularly nasty crew of mean girls (and boys).

In the leading role is a very attractive young man named Choi Seung-hyun (shown below, and better known as a rapper named T.O.P. from the group Big Bang). Master Choi acquits himself surprising well, I thought, as this poor young recruit trained to kill so easily and naturally that it soon becomes second nature. Desperately trying to protect his sister (below, right), as well as another young girl he meets in his new high school, the kid is up to his ears in problems.

This movie, as well as a number of others recently seen from South Korea, will indeed make you wonder: Is this country -- certainly as "western" an eastern one as can be imagined -- a place where present-day spying runs rampant and can so very easily be believed? If so, even if not, this idea certainly seems to be a hook from which countless Korean movies can be hung.

Super-violent and running up a very large body count, Commitment finds betrayal just about everywhere, at least where the men are concerned. You can count on the women a whole lot more easily, whether it's the grandmotherly North Korean spy who helps both the kid and his late father (in the film's fine opening sequence), or the high school honey (above) who befriends our hero, or his put-upon sister (both girls are conveniently named Hye-in).

While the film is most often rueful and sad, it is not without some humor on occasion. The scene in which the kid reacts to his pompous teacher in approximately the same way he would to a killer spy is pretty funny. 

In Hollywood, a movie like this would end in only one way. Thankfully, Korean cinema (understandably, I think) has a darker view of life. Commitment, like it or not, places this front and center. Despite some of the clichés on view here, I think you'll be moved and somewhat chastened by the film's finale.

You can see Commitment this coming Tuesday evening, January 14, at 7pm as part of the Korean Cultural Service's free screenings at the Tribeca Cinemas in lower Manhattan. It's first-come, first-served, however, so get there early! Click here for all the details.

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