Friday, August 9, 2013

Netflix streaming tip: Kang Woo-Suk's MOSS explores the nexus of religion and power in a small South Korean community

If you haven't yet climbed aboard the bandwagon for new films from South Korea, MOSS, a strange and riveting 2010 film about the use and abuse of religion and power, is a good place to begin. If you already know of the cinematic delights -- often loony, bloody and brash -- coming out of this much-troubled country after its century-long struggles with Asian colonialism, unnecessary separation, dictatorships and the usual further power struggles, then you'll probably want to add this unusual film to your queue.

In it, a troubled son (Park Hae-il, below) receives an anonymous phone call alerting him to the death of his estranged dad, and so he returns to the quiet mountain community where he father lived and worked. The film, directed by Kang Woo Suk (the Public Enemy series and Silmido) is neither the bloodiest nor the strangest nor the most concerned (as so many South Korea movies are) with vengeance, but it is a very good example of what that country's filmmakers are able to get right: a convulsively interesting story with a timely theme handled in a style that keeps you glued to the screen.

In this case, it's a religion (more like a religious cult, thanks to its charismatic leader: the recently deceased dad) used to control the town by its chief of police (Jung Jae-young, below) and his minions. This part of the story is plain enough, but the how and why all this has happened takes some unraveling, as well as the back story for each of the quartet of sleazy helpers the police chief has in tow, and the young woman who provides these men with their off-hours entertainment.

The plot thickens nicely, as our hero -- who has his own back story and a worthy nemesis who keeps after him, trying to proves his criminal intent -- with a few murder attempts on his life, uses his nemesis as a helper in his own investigation into his father's death.

The intensity never wanes, and the cast delivers some expert performances, from supporting actors to the two main combatants. Mostly, though, it's that particularly Korean blend of storytelling and style that will keep you hooked. Moss is another major movie from one of Asia's foremost film-making countries.

From CJ Entertainment, Moss, running two hours and 22 minutes (South Korean movies tend to be long but worth the time) is available via Netflix streaming and elsewhere, and is also for sale on DVD.

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