It’s a simple fact – films from South Korea have the chops to compete with the best world cinema has to offer. Starting this weekend a series of Korean movies are available on a convenient streaming platform.
by Michael Bergeron
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston would normally have an annual series of Korean films at this time of year. Instead the museum offers a week of streaming access to six of the hottest titles to play in South Korea this year.
Movie mavens know the thrills and clever story structure utilized by the typical South Korean release. For instance, the film “Ashfall” (“Baekdusan”), released earlier this year and not part of the program, weaves North-South action adventure pacing with a race to stop a volcanic eruption. I thought I was watching a Roland Emmerich helmed “Mission: Impossible” flicker.
It’s not surprising that two of the titles on the “2020 Korean Film Days” series, which ranges from a foodie documentary to blythe spirited romantic comedies, are as good as any film that’s seen the dim light of 2020.
An ambitious associate at a prestigious law firm gets promoted in the mergers and acquisitions department when he acts as a gopher for one of the firm’s corrupt but rich clients. Kang finds himself assigned as director of a bankrupted zoo that’s been bought and which the firm wants to turn around for profit.
At first a real kiss-ass sycophant, Kang soon realizes his true self when he bonds with what’s left of the misfit zoo staff. The beleaguered establishment had sold off most it its animals and the official permit time to acquire new exhibits takes months. The staff resorts to dressing up as select mammals in what are actually quite realistic costumes. Thus, the title “Secret Zoo,” (“Haechijianha”).
Hilarity ensues in a family friendly film that manages the delicate balance of corporate satire and wacky humor. Kang, imitating a polar bear gets tired of tourists throwing soda cans and one day “drinks a Coke®.” The TikTok video goes viral and crowds flock to the zoo. But then the dirty money family the firm represents plans to buy and demolish the zoo to build a golf course.
Adults will cheer Zang as he grows a pair and kids will love the magic of mimicking animals including a sloth, an ape, a lion and Zang’s melancholic and possibly hyperglycemic bear.
Beasts Clawing at Straws
A noir-influenced thriller that uses a story structure that emulates everything from Kubrick’s “The Killing” to Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” to Mike’s “Audition” has to be taken seriously. We’re talking more respect than a large grain of Himalayan pink salt.
“Beasts Clutching at Straws” uses a designer gym bag crammed full of cash as a device that entwines disparate characters, themselves in the throes of their own personal epiphanies and demons. Alliances are made not just to be broken yet shattered in dozens of different directions.
The tonal shifts of emotion and tension that first time director Yong-hoon Kim lays on the audience puts him on a definite must-watch list.
Tickets can be bought individually or as a package for $30 for all six films. “The Virtual Cinema: 2020 Korean Film Days,” available December 4 through 13, 2020, can be accessed at: https://koreanfilmdays.eventive.org/welcome