Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics


Will Korean Films 'The Tower' and 'A Werewolf Boy' Topple Tinsel Town?

Korean film and popular culture made a major impact in 2012, and 2013 seems headed in the same direction. Beyond the phenomenon that is Psy, Korean films have easily championed those from America at the Korean box office. The smash hit A Werewolf Boy bested not only the Twilight finale, but several pop icons such as Batman and Spiderman. In fact, the film is on its way to taking down The Avengers in box office receipts. Impressive showings worldwide are a testament to the fact that the Korean film industry is beating Hollywood at its own game with high screen averages in America that better domestic blockbusters.

This past summer saw a flurry of releases in the states from CJ Entertainment: romantic comedy All About My Wife; comedy Runway Cop; thriller Helpless; action flick R2B: Return to Base; costume drama Masquerade; and the sports-themed movie As One. All utilized Hollywood-style story-telling; in fact, with a little tweaking, many are likely to be remade by Hollywood. Consider this storyline: horsehair worms are eaten by insects such as grasshoppers and can only escape their hosts when in contact with water. That’s real. But tweak it a bit into mutated worms that proliferate in humans, and you get the smash South Korean hit Deranged. The plot is more believable than Contagion’s bat and pig virus mixture. And a lot scarier.

It’s little wonder that A Werewolf Boy bested its vampire-wolf American counterpart in terms of box office sales in South Korea. No ludicrous dialogue here, the film spins a Pygmalion tale with a feral child story. The supernatural elements are just an added bonus to this romantic tale of teenager Suni, who finds the unwanted boarder at her family’s new house. Sickly and germaphobic, she is repulsed by his animalistic ways, but with the help of a dog-training manual, her indifference to life is mended by being obedient to her heart and to the wolf boy’s undying devotion. The film will surely have teenage girls wistfully searching out zoos and forests for their own boy raised by wolves -- although the film doesn’t take the easy way out. Its ending is bittersweet—thankfully, Suni doesn’t transform into a wolf girl and give birth to a canine hybrid.

The Tower, opening January 11 in the U.S., doubles the danger of Towering Inferno, that iconic '70s disaster flick that had moviegoers rushing home to check their electrical wiring. Yes, there are two towers, and despite the buildings being at capacity with VIP residents and high-end restaurants, the owners are in full knowledge of the structural and fire safety hazards. Yet they have to best last year’s Christmas gala replete with holographic angels and helicopters dusting snow. Did I mention there were aerodynamic dangers as well? The first crash into the building is just the first in a series of catastrophes beleaguering the cast. Although the time spent getting to know the characters is somewhat lengthy, the subsequent dangers leave you forgetting the film's flaws and get the heart pumping with taut suspense.

Both films have several moments with the trademark South Korean over-the-top slapstick, which may take viewers out of the story momentarily, but their unflinching devotion to entertaining audiences wins out. The only loser may just be Hollywood, in taking a back seat to the ever-growing South Korean film industry.

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LTE wrote 1 year 33 weeks ago

Hooray For Hollywood

"worldwide are a testament to the fact that the Korean film industry is beating Hollywood at its own game with high screen averages in America that better domestic blockbusters."
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Per screen is not the best measure of success, more so when Asian films play on so few screens.
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"All utilized Hollywood-style story-telling; in fact, with a little tweaking, many are likely to be remade by Hollywood. "
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One thing I have found interesting about South Korean films is their directors seemed to have absorbed the American film technique, producing films with a sense of familiarity while being a bit different. Is South Korean culture very parallel to American? The production quality of S.Korean films is as good as anything that comes out of Hollywood.
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"their unflinching devotion to entertaining audiences wins out."
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A bit over looked is the quality of dramas S.Korean film makers produce. South Koreans do produce their fodder type films that have a little artistic merit but works by Kim-ki Duk (a one man wrecking ball to the image of S.K.'s) and Lee Chang Dong should be on the list for those looking for something a bit deeper. Duk's The Bow examines an April-December romance (no dialog either!) and The Isle showing Tony Perkins was not the only hotel operator you should fear as Duk examines people alienated over Korean culture at a fishing resort.
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Chang examines women on the periphery of society in films like Oasis and Poetry. Oasis tells the story of how an attempted rape turns into a romance between a woman with cerebral palsy and a mentally retarded man. Poetry is the tale of an older woman who deals with a self absorbed grandson who had a hand in driving a homely young female school mate to suicide as she see's her own horizons diminish due to the onset of Alzheimer's.
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Clearly South Korean films offer a great addition to your movie viewing library.

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About The Author

Ken Choy

Ken Choy is a community organizer and filmmaker, and producer of Breaking the Bow. He is gay, green, and gluten free.

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