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[Review] My Sassy Girl, Nowhere To Hide & Musa (Korea)

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[Review] My Sassy Girl, Nowhere To Hide & Musa (Korea)

Old 06-28-02, 08:35 PM
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[Review] My Sassy Girl, Nowhere To Hide & Musa (Korea)

My Sassy Girl

This film has been gaining momentum from the word 'go' and has earned more than a fair share of praise. It's another Korean summer comedy/romance starring the darling Jeon Ji-hyun who if you'll remember was also in Il Mare in a completely different role. Despite having only 3 films under her belt (this being the third), she's one of the most popular female stars in Korea. Her performance in My Sassy Girl was nothing short of brilliant (considering the subject matter) and you can certainly expect to see alot more of her in the future.

My Sassy Girl is a typical boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc type of film, but it's also so much more. The boy is in his mid-20's and one evening he saves a drunk girl from almost falling in front of a train. From that moment on he gets tied up in her life. What starts out as a good deed turns into a quirky relationship. The girl is quick to anger and outbursts and violence and is also a bit of a lush. Her parents are a bit scary as well. Even so, the boy manages to get romantically entangled with this girl. For his trouble, he ends up in jail a few times, gets held at gunpoint by a deserter and gets punched around by his new girlfriend quite often.

As fans of melodrama, Koreans tend to make movies that will make you laugh and cry. This film is no exception. The performances are all superb and the story is very touching and uplifting.

Visually, My Sassy Girl is very colorful and well filmed. There are many urban locations to view around Korea which I found interesting as well since I've never been there.

I picked up the Korean Special Edition DVD of this and it is superb. 2 discs and a slipcase to go over the DVD case. The second disc contains just a few unsubtitled extras. The first disc contains a beautiful Anamorphic print and a really nice DD5.1 surround soundtrack. My only problem with the DVD was the subtitles. They were great with respect to the translation and the visual quality, but they seem to have been designed for the deaf rather than to serve as a translation. Every time a character speaks, their character's name comes in front of the subtitled translation to indicate who is speaking. In addition to that, there are several instances of descriptions of sounds - such as "train rushing by" or "gunfire - tat tat tat". It's somewhat distracting, but easy enough to live with. Outside of that little problem, the DVD is fantastic.

8/10. I highly recommend this film to anyone. It'll make a great date movie... watch it with your signifigant other.

Nowhere To Hide

This is another case of Style Over Substance that plagues Korean cinema. Nearly all the Korean films I've seen are very stylish and well done, but few poses very much in the substance department. Nowhere To Hide is probably one of the most stylish films I've seen in awhile. It seems to borrow from everything - Japanese cinema, Hong Kong cinema, French cinema and Western cinema. As I watched the first 10 minutes, I was compelled to name off movies in my head in which I had seen that type of camerawork done before and I completely lost count of how many films I recognized bits and pieces from. I don't think it was deliberate - it looked like more of an influence than anything. Still, it managed to be a visual feast. What should've looked like a big mess (like that ugly muted purple grey color you get when you mix every color of paint) ended up having a very unique feel to it.

The story (which you would be hard pressed to find until about 15 minutes in) is about a group of homicide detectives in search of a murderer. Their search drags on for nearly 3 months and watching them find their man turns out to be quite interesting. To be honest, the story is lacking - good guys going after the bad guys - but it still manages to be very riveting. Jang Dong-gun provides the pretty-boy looks as one of the cops, but his partner played by Park Joong-hoon steals the show. Park Joong-hoon is fantastic in this as the relentless cop. The best way to describe him is to say he's the Korean John Belushi - I could swear that John's immortal soul was being channeled through Park Joong-hoon. He's a wonderful actor.

If I can say anything bad about this film aside from the confusing opening and the lack of depth in general, it would be that the fight scenes were pretty pathetic. Some scenes were done very stylishly and/or gimmicky - for examples, one scene had a whole stop and go thing going on in an almost Wong Kar Wai sort of fashion and another scene turned a fight into a slow dance by adding some waltz music. These scenes played out pretty well and were either comical or eye candy, but other scenes were just dopey and akward looking. In some cases it looked like the script just had one stage direction "and they fight". Watching a bit of the supplements showed that the fight scenes were indeed choreographed - at least a few were. Don't expect some martial arts masterpiece or some action extravaganza is all I'm saying.

Once again, Korean cinema proves that they love the melodrama as there are quite a few mushy moments inserted here and there... it never gets overwhelming though and it actually adds to the flavor and depth of the film. There's also plenty of opportunities to laugh here as well. I can easily say that I was never bored.

The DVD - another Korean release - was great. Anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 surround, fantastic subtitles, and a few unsubtitled extras such as a music video, a making-of, and some interviews. Both DVDs in this review are NTSC, but while My Sassy Girl is Region 3, this DVD is not region encoded so it can be viewed on any US player.

7/10 - Even though it lacks any substantial message or plot for that matter and even though all the styles seem to have been borrowed from other sources, this film manages to maintain an original look and feel and be entertaining at the same time. As long as you don't go into this expecting an explosive action movie or some surreal arthouse film, you'll more than likely enjoy yourself. I look forward to seeing something else by the same director. Highly recommended to those who like frenetic and surreal camerawork, Japanese cult cinema and Anime... passive recommendation to the rest of you. It's almost certainly a good time as long as you check all your expectations at the door.

Musa

Musa is a large scale Chinese period epic made by a Korean crew. The result is a slick heroic action drama with Hollywood production values. The film is ultra gory and violent and also very competently produced. This film is so tight you could bounce quarters off it. The cinematography, the effects and the performances are all top notch. I was really impressed with the development of the characters... sure they were all pretty stereotypical for this type of film, but they were all still very interesting nonetheless.

The action was handled professionally with gallons of blood and makeup artists working overtime. Choreography was also calculated and executed perfectly. This film should stand in the same company as films like Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart... if you're among those who dismiss such films as lacking substance or just being dumb, then Musa is not for you. It's about as artsy as a gory bloody action movie can be though. Comparisons to Ashes of Time are misguided, but I can see why someone would attempt to match the two. Directing style is vastly different. Musa was directed pretty straight forward. Not much in the way of slick camera angles and trick shots and pull focus work. There was a little bit borrowed from Saving Private Ryan's action scenes with the useage of strobing effects to make flying dirt and debris look crisp and sharp.

The film is indeed gory - it contains several scenes of arrows going through necks and severed limbs and buckets of blood. It's not for the squemish. Most guys will be cheering "Yeah!" half the time if they like that sort of stuff. The film lacks alot of flamboyant martial arts as I guess the director wanted to present the action in a more realistic fashion, which I think he accomplished. This film would probably do pretty well in the theaters here in the US.

Basically what it's about is... an envoy gets captured by a rival clan and are taken as prisoners out in the desert. Along comes another rival clan who kills their captors and leaves them on their own. They begin to travel across the desert with little food or water to try to get back home. They eventually come across a small village and discover the princess is being held captive against her will. They decide to help her escape and in doing so they piss off this really powerful clan that persues them relentlessly. Against the odds, they fight to survive and make their way home... do they make it? I won't tell. It's less about the simple story than it is about the inner conflicts and demons within each character. Outside of that, it's just a hack and slash action movie.

The acting is all fantastic. All the characters are perfect fits. Zhang Ziyi is probably the only one here who I take issue with. Oh, she's cast perfectly as the snobby brat princess who acts like a child and gets everyone into trouble, but I guess I'm just growing tired of her in general. I'm also not Asian, so I can't comment on how strange it is to have Korean actors speaking Korean and playing Chinese characters. It almost seemed like they were speaking Korean with a Chinese accent and then I'm sure I heard some Cantonese and even a little Mandarin here and there as not all the characters were supposed to be able to understand each other. I suppose if I was Asian, it might seem a little silly to me - but since I'm American, I didn't notice and enjoyed it just the same. Harrison Ford's new movie K19 has a bunch of American actors playing as Russians on a submarine. They're all speaking English to each other but with a thick Russian accent... that seems really idiotic to me. I wonder if Koreans feel that same way about Musa.

The DVD is from Korea and is Region 3 and NTSC. It's packaged beautifully with an Amaray case that holds both the movie disc and a second supplement disc. This resides inside a slipcase that also holds a beautiful hard-bound book with pictures and info about the film. It's all in Korean though so I just got to look at the pretty pictures. The subtitles on the DVD were less than perfect, but acceptable. The film is presented in Anamorphic widescreen and includes a DD5.1 soundtrack. I would've liked a DTS track and this film would've benefited from one. Other than the few gripes, this DVD is primo!

8/10 - This film is not a chick flick. Your woman won't like it unless she likes bloody flicks like those mentioned above... let me ammend that... unless she'd like a flick like Gladiator or Braveheart without the hunky Mel Gibson or sexy Russel Crowe. This is a guy flick pure and simple. It's not typical Korean style over substance - it's a good balance of both. It's not the best movie ever, but for an action film it's great. Some would say "popcorn flick" and this certainly fits the bill. Highly Recommended.

Last edited by Trigger; 06-29-02 at 01:57 AM.
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Old 06-28-02, 10:52 PM
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Cool! you finally saw Nowhere to Hide! Thanks for the review!
My review for Nowhere to Hide is here if you want to compare. I'm glad you liked it.
Fits like a glove!-- Your comment about Park Joong-Hoon being the Korean John Belushi is spot on.

Cheers,
Gabe
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Old 06-29-02, 01:23 AM
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Yeah, I think you liked it a bit more than I did. Oddly enough, Koreans tend to like the sappy melodramas alot more than the over-stylish action movies that tend to get alot of press here in the US. I don't think this film was very popular in Korea. Certainly not as popular as My Sassy Girl.
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Old 06-29-02, 06:57 AM
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a couple of comments about musa:

korea sends an envoy (one of several) to the mings. the mings had taken over from the yuan (mongols) who are still powerful in the north and are eager to rule again (but they are a fading power - it adds to the poignancy of Iron Monkey's role! ) they're not clans - they're the dynasties that ruled china.

people are generally speaking their language. the worst is when some of the koreans (like the general) is speaking chinese b/c it is so poor. on the other hand, the korean interpreter is pretty good. but like 1/2 the movie is in mandarin (w/ subtitles in korean) which i think is a good move especially for the authenticity.

heheh, the book has english chapter titles! you can read that

-

musa has a strong theme of class struggle. it is something koreans deal w/ b/c of the heirarchical social structure. it is especially important in the development of the characters and how they interact. i don't want to give away spoilers but how the general's treatment by his subordinates evolves is pretty amazing.

-

comments on nowhere to hide (which i'd give like a 7.5/10). koreans love their mothers!
i don't think the the john belushi comparison is totally appropriate. park's comic behavior always has a hint of tragedy/sadness as well as a brutality. i always thought john belushi was more of an animal house type of comedy.

Last edited by young; 06-29-02 at 07:01 AM.
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Old 06-29-02, 07:35 AM
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Those are all very good points... shows how much I know. I caught the whole class struggle thing and I did find the social dynamic to be a stronger theme than the base story. You are indeed right about them being dynasties and I wasn't trying to belittle the relevance or importance by calling them clans. Since I didn't grow up learning about all of Chinese history, I honestly couldn't tell a Ming from a Mongol. My schools taught white American history and not much else. I was never really much of a history buff either.

As for Nowhere To Hide - I have always thought of John Belushi as a pretty tragic character himself. I remember when he died (yes, I'm that old) and reading in the paper about it and being sad. I don't see him as he was in Animal House even though that's how he was in half his movies. Park just reminded me alot of the broody John Belushi and I felt that had John Belushi tackled such a role he would've done it in much the same way.
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Old 06-30-02, 08:28 PM
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Originally posted by young
comments on nowhere to hide (which i'd give like a 7.5/10). koreans love their mothers!
i don't think the the john belushi comparison is totally appropriate. park's comic behavior always has a hint of tragedy/sadness as well as a brutality. i always thought john belushi was more of an animal house type of comedy.
I'm told by my friend who lives in Korea that Park is a very funny person in real life and that he is funnier than the comedians usually when he visits talk shows. This film came out before Say Yes - in Say Yes he was trying to change his image to be darker (much like Robin Williams seems to be trying to do) and it was a complete failure as audiences would just go to that film and see his face and laugh. Say Yes has a different effect here in the US where we aren't familiar with the actor as a person. I'm also told that his personality came out alot in Nowhere To Hide.
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Old 07-01-02, 12:12 PM
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Park will soon be seen stateside in Jonathan Demme's The Truth About Charlie alongside Mark Wahlberg, Tim Robbins, and Thandie Newton, playing a US Marine assigned to guard/follow Thandie's character. Can't wait for that one.

BTW, Park's John Belushi impression is spot on in Kang Woo Suk's How to Murder My Wife released in 1995 (complete with the patented one eyebrow lift).

Nowhere to Hide was pretty big in Korea during the summer of 1999. It beat all other domestic and foreign releases for quite a number of weeks, IIRC. Probably nowhere near My Sassy Girl's numbers, though.
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Old 07-01-02, 12:17 PM
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trigger, i think you're right. if belushi had lived, he probably would have made a similar character stand out like park did.
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Old 07-01-02, 04:58 PM
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Nobody cares about my opinion but I'll give it anyway

I'm new to Korean cinema, have only seen about 3 movies (Musa, My Wife is Gangster, and Nowhere to Hide.)

Musa: I loved. Movie was a very entertaining way to spend 2.5 hours and was enjoyable from beginning to end. Loved most of the fight scenes and well - I'm a violence nut so it was just fun. The story seemed a bit underdeveloped at times, but 'eh considering the time I saw it (I hadn't seen a thoroughly entertaining movie in some time) I give it a 9 outta 10.

My Wife is Gangster: Thought this was really good as well. Much funnier than I would have expected - considering the fact that I'm used to cornier humor when it comes to Asian cinema (no offense but some of it just is ) This one was a little more settle and didn't seem to try too terribly hard to get a gag to work (well, some situations did. But overall...) And for once, a "romantic (well...kinda?)-comedy" plot I haven't heard a million times through. And just really enjoyed it. 8 outta 10.

Nowhere to Hide: couldn't stand it. Completely uninvolving, very slow, and dull. I just couldn't get into it - was especially disappointed after all the great things I had heard about it. It was like an art flick posing as an action flick trying to pose as an art flick. The story also felt rather contrived and uninspired, but that's likely just me. I suppose it isn't for everyone. 3 out of 10.

My 2 cents that nobody really asked for but I'm giving anyway, heh heh.

-Rich
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Old 07-01-02, 08:20 PM
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Originally posted by RichC2
Nobody cares about my opinion but I'll give it anyway
I care - your opinion is just as valid as anyone elses. That's what the forum is all about. I just post my reviews like this cuz one or two people seem to like it. The threads should also serve as a place for discussing the films reviewed - that includes differences of opinions and pointing out that I'm a jackass.
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Old 07-02-02, 01:04 AM
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I got all three of these from www.krdvd.com - I think they're all available from pokerindustries as well for a little more money. I don't know about hkflix, but if they are I imagine they would be even more money.
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Old 08-19-02, 01:25 AM
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My sassy girl dvd version question:

Sayodvd list this:
http://www.sayodvd.com/detail_view.php?mode=add&gid=115

Krdvd.com lists this:
http://www.krdvd.com/details.php?id=15

The cover art is different. Krdvd sells the directors cut which is approx 137 mins but Sayodvd lists the dvd as 122 mins. Are these different versions? I've have been under the impression that the one listed on krdvd.com's site is the only Korean version of this film. Then there is the HK disc which is the shorter version.

Is Sayodvd a Korean retailer? If not, then that explains the version difference. Btw, is it a good retailer?
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Old 08-19-02, 02:14 AM
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I don't know what that Sayodvd version is... I've never seen it before. Alot of their covers look different from the actual Korean releases, and then some of them look the same. It's strange. I think the site might be run out of Germany based on some of the postings on the message board there. It seems like a fairly new site. I'd stay away for now and just get the Director's Cut from Krdvd or DVDShelf or some other place.
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Old 08-19-02, 09:25 AM
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My sassy girl and MUSA was both awesome (except for that corny a%* POP song at the end of MUSA), but what really suprised me was My Wife is a Gangster, partly because I wasn't expecting an all out action movie, but a comedy. But when I saw it, the action scenes blew me away and the lead actress was just awesome. (just like in my sassy girl) Thank god for korean movies now that the HK scene is not humming as it used to.....
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Old 08-19-02, 01:27 PM
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there's also a 2 disc hk dvd of my sassy girl released recently by edko that is also region 3. it contains the theatrical cut (which many say is the better version of the movie) that is 122mins long. i'm still trying to find a review on this release.
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Old 08-21-02, 04:53 PM
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SayoDVD

Most likely this is NOT run out of Germany ... they ship from Korea, their return address is Korean, as well as the domain being registered to a Korean address. Maybe the one German-speaking staff member on their board misled you ... they seem to be pretty new, maybe I will check them out at some stage.
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Old 08-21-02, 05:01 PM
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Krdvd.com is run out of Canada, but they ship out of Korea.
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Old 08-23-02, 11:46 AM
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Originally posted by Trigger
Krdvd.com is run out of Canada, but they ship out of Korea.
Nope, they ship out of Canada.
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Old 08-23-02, 09:52 PM
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Originally posted by eXcentris


Nope, they ship out of Canada.
Nope, the ship out of Korea AND Canada. I got 2 shipments from them that came from Korea and one that came from Canada.
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Old 08-24-02, 04:59 PM
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Originally posted by Trigger
Nope, the ship out of Korea AND Canada. I got 2 shipments from them that came from Korea and one that came from Canada.
Well then we're both right.
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