An Introduction to the ‘Korean New Wave’

Out of all the media I have consumed, nothing compares to the roller coaster of excitement that is seeing a new film out of Korea. After a turbulent 20th century (and even during the 20th century), the pennisula has produced some of the most celebrated films of recent memory.

My aim is to create a short guide that you might benefit from viewing first as you delve in to Korean Cinema. These films are often the most accessible foreign language films available and simply wonderful to watch.

The Good The Bad The Weird directed by Jee-woon Kim (2008)

Korean New Wave

Who doesn’t love a good Western? The Good the Bad the Weird is a Korean Western set in the 1930s in the former Japanese province of Mantruria. Two outlaws, a bounty hunter, and a whole host of others set out to posess a treasure map.

This film has got it all! Shoot outs, fight scenes, epic chases, Barbarians with hammers, you name it!

The Good the Bad the Weird succeeds in delivering a classic genre film in a truly unique way. It is funny, supenseful, and full of heart. I would recommend starting with this film first because it perfectly encapsulates what is so great about the Korean New Wave.

Train to Busan directed by Sang-ho Yeon (2016)

Korean New Wave

When is the last time you were actually emotionally invested in a Zombie movie? Wait no longer! Train to Busan is the story of a group a passengers survining the outbreak of the Zombie virus while stuck on a train from Seoul to Busan.

At its core, the film hangs on the relationship between the two leads, a father and young daughter. It keeps you emotionally involved throughout the entire film. It is very touching and saying more would ruin the film.

The zombie stuff is still awesome! It is the only film that I know of where you can watch someone puch Zombies to death!

Joint Security Area directed by Park Chanwook (2000)

Korean New Wave

Joint Security Area is the story of an investigation of a shootout in the DMZ between North and South Korea. Instead of uncovering malice and hatred, they uncover the tale of tragic friendship.

Joint Security Area is one of the best dramas I have ever seen. It is poignant and eternally relevant. The film is powerful and stays with you forever.

You can read more about my thoughts on it here.

Korean New Wave

I hope this will serve as a useful guide to start on your journey with Korean Film. There are still many wonderful films premiering every year, so don’t miss out on the fun of the Korean New Wave!

Thanks for reading!

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Mastery by Robert Greene

Mastery by Robert Greene is one of the first books I read this year and it will shape how I will approach the rest of my life. Honest, thorough, and engaging, Robert Greene instructs you how to truly devote your life to your inner calling.

mastery

Real World Examples

“Darwin could have played it safe, collecting what was necessary, and spending more time on board studying instead of actively exploring. In that case, he would not have become an illustrious scientist, but just another collector. He constantly looked for challenges, pushing himself past his comfort zone. He used danger and difficulties as a way to measure his progress. You must adopt such a spirit and see your apprenticeship as a kind of journey in which you will transform yourself, rather than as a drab indoctrination into the work world.”

– Robert Greene

I discovered Robert Greene (like most people) through his book The 48 Laws of Power. I quickly fell in love with his writing style and sought out more of his work.

Greene tends to collect his ideas into a “law” or principle that he has observed during his own personal experience or through his research. Then he codified it with a historical example of that law being played out either in that person’s favor or to their detriment.

The real world examples add an extra dimension to the idea being presented, helping it to be digested, as well as helping the principle stick with you. The laws come alive in his writing with the historical characters acting them out.

In Mastery, Robert Greene pulled from historical examples as well as contemporary sources that he interviewed himself. The figures featured in this book that have stuck with me the most are Hakuin Zenji, Wolfgang Von Goethe, The Carolina Islanders, and Cesar Rodriguez Jr.

Practical Advice

It is not a matter of studying for twenty years and then emerging as a Master. The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus.”

– Robert Greene

The advice in this book is immensely practical regardless of your interests. Greene stresses that you achieve mastery through hard work and constant improvement. To gain mastery in a field, first you must master yourself.

Conclusion

I would recommend Mastery to anyone who is interested in self-discipline and wants to achieve something great.

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The Human Condition Trilogy

The Human Condition is Masaki Kobayashi’s harrowing ten-hour trilogy about a Japanese pacifist in WWII.

The films are beautiful, heartbreaking, and a true testament to the human spirit.

No Greater Love

human condition

We meet Kaji, our protagonist, as he contemplates the upcoming war. He gets married to his sweetheart Michiko despite his worry for the future. His luck seems to change when he gets exempted from the draft and gets a job managing a labor camp in Japanese occupied Manchuria.

human condition

The labor camp is a very interesting setting both narratively and visually. The rolling hills of dirt are not the epic location you think of when of WWII. However, after watching the film, I cannot help, but think of them whenever I imagine the Eastern Front.

At the camp, it is very clear that they are under staffed and overworked. The Manchu workers themselves are worked to death and there is every incentive to do just that. Kaji insists are treating the workers like human beings, but his superiors blow him off.

But, things aren’t that bad until the POWs arrive.

The Military Police orders that the POWS be kept behind an electric fence. Things slowly deteriorate and some of the POW are accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Kaji tries to strand up for them, but they are still executed.

Kaji is taken to prison, interrogated, tortured, and then drafted into the military.

Road to Eternity

human condition

Kaji fares well in the military. He is a model solider, but is under constant suspicion because of his past.

This film was the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The Private Pyle subplot was completely lifted from Road to Eternity and many shots look very similar.

After training, Kaji gets sent out to the front and combat deeply changes him. After the vast majority of his unit is wiped out in his first battle he is desperate to make it back to his wife.

A Soldier’s Prayer

human condition

Kaji and two other soldiers make the arduous journey back towards friendly territory. Along the way they see what the war has done to the land.

This is definitely the most heartbreaking of the three. Eventually, Kaji is captured by the Soviets and works at a labor camp in a situation that mirrors the first film. The situation is even worse than when they were wandering in the middle of nowhere.

Kaji tries to advocate for himself and his people with the Soviets, but it is no use. Eventually he escapes and vanishes in the snow.

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I intentionally glossed over some major points in the film. You should definitely check it out! These are some of the most important films ever made and are (for at least now) my favorite films.

The Human Condition shows us the evil of war and ideology, but also gives us hope for a better future.

The trilogy is available to watch (in some form) on Filmstruck, Amazon, and YouTube.

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5 Unique 2017 Films

Great films come out every year, but truly unique films are hard to find. Luckily, 2017 was full of films with distinct voices.  Here are five films from last year that I thought were truly special.

  1. A Ghost Story (Directed by David Lowery)

A Ghost Story is the kind of film that sticks with you for the rest of your life. This film is a testament to what a talented filmmaker can do with a small budget and a great idea.

The film’s premise is simple; Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are a couple and one day Affleck dies unexpectedly. Affleck becomes a ghost and “haunts” their house. It is a very cliched premise, but David Lowery does something amazing (and unexpected with it) with it.

The look of the film is one of the most unique aspects. They shot with Panavision Super and Ultra Speeds for a shallower depth of field and more a natural look.

The aspect ratio is also a unique contributor to the film’s look. The film is 4:3  instead of 16:9 because, as Lowery explained, “I liked the concept of trapping this character in a box, in a very formal fashion. I’ve always been a fan of that aspect ratio. It’s 1.33:1, the classic Academy ratio.”

2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

Yorgos Lanthimos has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers with films like Alps, Dogtooth, and The Lobster. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is my favorite work by Lanthimos so far and makes me excited to see what he has next for us.

The story is based around Steven (Colin Farrell), a cardiologist , who takes Martin (Barry Keoghan), under his wing after his father dies. Things turn dark when Steven’s family suddenly starts becoming ill.

It is hard to articulate exactly what makes the film unique. Everything from the choice of camera placement to the timing of words spoken in any given scene is different from many films that came out in 2017. It exudes style. Lanthimos has developed a very clear and effective voice that is unique in the world of film.

The film is tense, funny, and horrifying at times, but it never strays from its eerie tone. Barry Keoghan has an amazing performance, shifting from vulnerable youth to intimidating certainty. It possess the odd delivery of dialogue that is present in Lanthimos’ films, which may annoy some viewers, but I believe it sets the tone very well.

3. The Florida Project (Directed by Sean Baker)

The Florida Project is more understated than the other films on this lost, but it is just as special.

The story follows and group of children who live at a motel in Orlando, FL. There is love, laughs, tragedy, and an ending that annoyed everyone.

As an indie guy myself, Sean Baker is an inspiration. The Florida Project is one of the best and most talked about films of 2017 and it was shot on an iPhone with a cast of mostly unknown actors.

Baker’s voice is unique because of his style and subject matter. A good summation of his films can be summed up in this quote:”When I see a billboard that literally just has five names and they’re all A-listers, I’m just like, What is that bringing to the world that’s new?”

The best word I can use to describe the film simply be raw. It is 115 minutes of raw emotion from such simple images such as children playing in a parking lot.

4. Good Time (Directed by Josh and Benny Sadfie)

Good Time is a film that not talked about enough. The Sadfie brothers are another unique voice in film and this gem should not be overlooked.

Following the trend of simple stories, Good Time is about two brothers (Robert Pattinson and Benny Sadfie) who try to rob and bank and fail. One goes to jail while the other tries to free him.

The film is super fast paced and flies by super quickly. The viewer is quickly invested in the story by the amazing performances and cinematography. Despite the simplicity of the story, you never see what comes next because you simply don’t have time to!

Good Time excels at making you feel as though you were in the situation. You feel just as tense as Robert Pattinson and understand him completely. The relationship between to the two brothers is bittersweet and carries the film well.

5. Ingrid Goes West (Directed by Matt Spicer)

With its eerily realistic premise, Ingrid Goes West is one the better dark comedies made in the last decade.

The story follows Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), as she moves to Los Angeles to stalk an Instagram user (Elizabeth Olsen) whom she idolizes.

Aubrey Plaza is my favorite part of the film. She really surprised me with her performance. Instead of the deadpan character she normally portrays, she actually pulled off a deeper character who was sympathetic and vulnerable while still being dark and quirky.

I admire that Ingrid Goes West is a fully fleshed out film instead of the gimmicky teen comedy I feared it would be. I like how it doesn’t judge its characters for their quirks and just tells the story. It could have easily turned into schlock, but I appreciate the more nuanced version that we got.

What did you think of my list? Are there any films that you thought were especially unique from last year?

Let me know in the comments!

Cultivating a Relationship with the Natural World

 

The biggest mistake in the plight for the preservation of the natural world was to create an ideology around it. The well-being of our planet is not a political issue; it is a human one.

I have long theorized that people don’t care about the natural world because they don’t have a relationship with it.  Planting native species at your home is a great step that you can take to develop one. By simply planting species native to your area, you invite all sorts of wildlife to visit.

Green Anole
Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

 

eastern tent caterpillar
Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)

 

Baby birds

Volunteering with citizen science projects is a great way to help in a meaningful way and learn from seasoned professionals. A lot of conservation work is done entirely by volunteers so they need your help!

Indigo Bunting
Bird Banding

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs is worth driving to the single, secluded theater in your state to see it. People will move in front of the screen and switch seats 400 times, but you will still be engaged by the film.

Wes Anderson put lots of tiny details into the film that make it awesome to watch. I really enjoyed the “fight clouds” that appeared throughout the film. I have seen many stop-motion films, but I have never seen that classic cartoon gag used before. Anderson pays homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai both visually and with the score) a few times throughout the film which is fun for Kurosawa fans.

Although it sags a bit in the middle, I found the story to be a clever and creative twist on the standard dog storyline. The characters are fun and have enough depth to be invested in (except a select few).

The visuals are awesome. The scenery perfectly melds real-world grit with the cartoon-y whimsy. This is definitely a film that you want to see in the theater because there are many tiny details and jokes you might miss.

Isle of Dogs is definitely going to be one of the best films of the year. Don’t miss it in theaters because of its terribly handled opening!

 

Why You Should Get FilmStruck (and the Criterion Channel)

“When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.'”

-Quentin Tarantino

FilmStruck contains acclaimed films from unique filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos, while The Criterion Channel hosts the iconic and classic films that shaped the medium of Film. Both channels also have video essays, commentaries, behind the scenes footage, and interviews with the cast and crew on many of their films.

When the Criterion Collection left Hulu I was heartbroken. It was the only reason I had Hulu. Netflix and Amazon are great, but they don’t traditionally have a lot of classic films to stream.

I remember trying to find an HD version of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and I stumbled upon FilmStruck. It was exactly what I was looking for and more!

I believe that you shouldn’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration is a fire that you must keep burning inside your soul. If you are a filmmaker, there is no better way to fuel that fire than by watching films by the masters of the medium.

I have had the service for over a month now, and I am thoroughly pleased. The continually refresh their library so you never run out of things to watch.

I would highly recommend this service to anyone who is interested in Film!

 

*This is not a sponsored post. I just really love the service!*

Joint Security Area

Joint Security Area is the third feature film from acclaimed, Korean director Chanwook Park.

When a group of North Korean soldiers are murdered on their side of the border, presumably by a single South Korean soldier, an investigation is led by a team from the neutral countries overseeing the border. During the investigation, the team discovers a web of lies, terror, and brotherly love.

The film is simply heartbreaking. I watched it on a whim and was utterly shocked by how tragic and profound it was. This film needs to be seen.

I said that Tower was the most important film of the 21st century, but Joint Security Area may be just as important. This film showcases the tragedy of war in a more personal way than I have seen it portrayed before.

Tower

I made a video essay about the documentary, Tower. It is one of the best films I have ever seen and I would recommend that everyone should see it at least once. It was the most visceral experience I have ever had watching a film.

The film deals with controversial subject matter in an even-handed and rational way. Most documentaries of this ilk are glorified propaganda pieces, but Tower does not fall into that category. This is a very human story, told in a very human way.

The film is mostly rotoscope, similar to Waltz with Bashir, but that doesn’t make them film feel any less real. In fact, I would say this technique adds to the overall rawness of the film.

I would recommend this to anyone who is interesting in documentary filmmaking. This film is perfectly executed.

Tower didn’t get the love it deserved upon release, so please give it a watch. You won’t regret it!