What goes up must come down. I'm feeling pretty awful right now. Nothing to do but get on the sofa, fire up Stan (which we have at the mo for Twin Peaks), and see if they have any Korean movies. Not many, but there's something called "Age of Shadows". Oh, and Lee Byunghun's in it - one of my favourite Korean actors (and a honey to boot). And - a particular shot through a car's windshield gave this away - it's directed by Kim Jee-woon, whose work I admire, if perhaps not exactly like.
The movie (its Korean title is 밀정 "Spy") is set during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The main character is a Korean working for the Japanese police. From the start, he's played as unexpectedly sympathetic; the plot hinges on whether this double agent will eventually choose one side over the other.
The direction is elegant and sometimes beautiful. It's a visually striking period (compare The Mystic Nine), with so much Western influence alongside traditional Korean and Japanese dress (spot the gat in the courtroom scene). I wonder if the handful of white faces in the movie are there for exotic colour! (I wondered this about Mystic Nine, too.) The action extravaganza that opens the film typifies this, with dozens of Japanese police in Western-style uniforms swarming through the streets and over the tiled roofs of Seoul like black ants. The use of Ravel's Bolero later in the film was hair-raising! There's a far bit of blood and a severed toe, but nothing like the rivers of gore in "A Bittersweet Life" by the same director.
In most but not all of the Korean movies I've seen, women have been marginal (this may partly be because I've seen so many gangster movies!) - the story revolves around relationships and questions of loyalty between men. Given the content of "I Saw The Devil", in which naked women are literally cut into pieces and consumed, on the whole I'd rather Kim Jee-woon left female characters out as much as possible. In that film, as in "Age of Shadows", women suffer in order to motivate the men; the fiance of the hero of "I Saw The Devil" (Lee Byunghyun again) is literally fridged so that he can pursue the cannibalistic baddie for private vengeance, getting two women sexually assaulted in the process (there's an unforgiveable shot of a schoolgirl's body as the cannibal molests her); in Kim's movie "A Bittersweet Life", the female character is caught between a gangster boss and his underappreciated lackey (Lee Byunghyun again - are you seeing a pattern here?). To come back to "Age of Shadows", Yeon (Han Jimin) is given a badass moment before being tortured and dying to feed the guilt and grief of our heroes. At least the director didn't get her waps out.
I've seen enough Korean movies now that I'm starting to recognise actors from other things. The lead, Song Kang-ho, was also in Shiri, Joint Security Area, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. (Yoo Gong, on the other hand, is in things I haven't seen yet, like Train to Busan and the Kdrama Goblin.)
Well, my mood can't have completely collapsed if I have the energy to write this. The movie took me out of myself, for which I am duly grateful. Now perhaps an episode of 파수꾼 ("Lookout" / "Guardian").