Triple Scoop Review: Big Match, Inseparable Bros, and The Villainess

Big Match

Year: 2014
Director: Choi Ho
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Viki
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Vanilla

Big Match is enjoyable, pretty light-hearted fare. Once again, Lee Jung Jae is playing a dude trapped in a high stakes game where rich assholes bet money on if he survives; unlike Squid Game, however, Choi Ik Ho (Lee) isn’t playing various deadly children’s games. Instead, he’s a hothead MMA fighter forced to complete various dangerous tasks (escape the police, attack a bunch of gangsters, sing karaoke, etc.) if he wants to see his brother alive again. Shin Ha Kyun, who I’ve been pretty much obsessed with since watching Beyond Evil, plays the villainous mastermind Ace, and his hair in this movie is just . . . it is art. It is perfection itself. If I owned a curling iron, or hair spray, and actually knew how to do anything with my hair, I would 100% style it this way. His whole aesthetic in this film is just . . . *chef’s kiss.*

But yes, yes, the movie itself. Big Match is fun and silly—there are zero tonal similarities between this and Squid Game—and never takes itself too seriously. My attention did start to drift, I don’t know, maybe the last 20-25 minutes of the movie? And of course, it’s always hard whenever an actor I love is playing the villain, since I just end up rooting for them the whole time, particularly since I never did care very much about Ik Ho. (I do feel sorry for his brother, though, poor dude.) Still, I had a decent time watching this. Shin Ha Kyun is campy and petulant and delightful, and it’s fun to see Lee Jung Jae as this buff martial arts dude. I was both surprised and pleased to see Choi Woo Shik pop up, and I enjoyed Ra Mi Ran as Ik Ho’s sister-in-law, Hyung Soo. If you’re in the mood for an easy watch with ridiculous action scenes and fantastic hair, you could probably do worse than Big Match.

Inseparable Bros

Year: 2019
Director: Yook Sang Hyo
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Viki
Spoilers: Some, yes
Grade: Chocolate

. . . LOL, I’m not at all convinced that this trailer does a great job establishing the overall tone of this movie. Like, parts of the film are definitely comedic, but . . . yeah, this isn’t quite it. Also, fuck it, this whole Triple Scoop Review is just gonna be dedicated to Shin Ha Kyun, I guess, because I’ll apparently watch all kinds of shit that I wouldn’t normally sign up for so long as he’s in it. Case in point: Inseparable Bros, which—in fairness—I didn’t watch solely for Shin Ha Kyun. I also wanted to see Lee Kwang Soo and Esom, too. But yeah. My wheelhouse is pretty firmly horror/fantasy/SF/action/mystery. I’m not saying I never venture out of these genres, but inspirational comedy-dramas, particularly ones based on true events, are really not my jam. And a story about two good friends—a very intelligent quadriplegic man and a sweet swimmer with intellectual disabilities—who’ve closely relied on one another for years . . . like, Jesus, I already watched The Mighty, okay? I know where you’re going with this, and my soul’s not in the fucking mood. (I feel the way about tearjerkers that some people feel about horror movies: why would you willingly do that to yourself, why?)

That all being said . . . I actually did enjoy this one.  It helps that while I did get a tiny bit emotional once or twice (because there are sad moments, and/or because I’m a weepy mess of a person), it wasn’t quite the soul crushing tragedy that I’d anticipated. And the movie didn’t feel too, like, cringeworthy inspiration porn, either? (Though as a non-disabled person, I could very well be missing things here.) To me, the focus, really felt like it was on Se Ha and Dong Goo’s relationship, rather than just some, IDK, triumphant underdog story that makes able-bodied people feel good about themselves?

The cast is excellent: Shin Ha Kyun and Lee Kwang Soo both give really solid performances as Se Ha and Dong Goo, respectively, and they have a great rapport. I like Esom in this, too, although I do feel like her character is a bit off balance with the rest of the story; I wish she either had less screen time or a stronger arc. (Although I do like that this isn’t a romance and that any jealousy aspects are minimal. Also, I enjoy the mildly antagonistic friendship between her character and Se Ha.) I was delighted to see other familiar faces in this movie, too: Kwon Hae Hyo, Kil Hae Yeon, Ahn Ji Ho, and Park Chul Min. Ahn Ji Ho and Kim Hyun Bin are both really well cast as Young Se Ha and Young Dong Goo, and despite limited screen time, I really enjoyed Kwon Hae Hyo as Father Park as well.

Inseparable Bros. is kind of a simple story and there aren’t any big surprises except that—SPOILERS—our leads both live! But overall, I think it’s told pretty well: I like Se Ha’s reserve and crankiness, I like Dong Goo’s complicated relationship with his mother, and I think a couple of the flashbacks near the end of the film are used quite nicely. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that I, notably cold of heart, enjoyed a heartwarming dramedy, but there you have it. Sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves.

The Villainess

Year: 2017
Director: Jung Byung Gil
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, absolutely
Grade: Vanilla

Hm. You know, I have mixed feelings on this one, and I’m still trying to sort them out. The Villainess has some serious La Femme Nikita vibes (with a few parts that strongly reminded me of Kill Bill), and obviously, I’m a sucker for badass assassins and revenge flicks. I generally enjoyed all the frenetic action scenes. There are one or two pretty brutal surprises. I’m obsessed with the shot of Sook Hee in a wedding dress holding a sniper rifle. And the cast is pretty great, too. I enjoy Kim Ok Bin as Sook Hee, our assassin protagonist whose life just gets increasingly more and more tragic. Kim Seo Hyung is great as Kwon Sook, the chief of the spy agency who recruits Sook Hee. (I loved Kim Seo Hyung in Nobody Knows; this woman was just born to play a mega cool badass in charge.) Obviously, I continue to like Shin Ha Kyun; motherfucker just exudes charisma in this film, like, hot damn. He is one insanely cold-hearted (and sexy) bastard here. And it was nice to see a couple of actors I didn’t expect: Sung Joon (who I enjoyed in White Christmas) plays Hyun Soo, a spy who falls in love with Sook Hee, and Park Chul Min pops up for the second time this week, this time playing Sook Hee’s father.

Still . . . I feel like something’s missing here, and I’m trying to decide exactly what that is. I saw a lot of reviews arguing that The Villainess has second act problems, and . . . yeah, I probably wouldn’t disagree with that. In a way, I feel like this movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be about—or maybe it does know but never quite supports the thesis? Like, okay. By the end of the film, Sook Hee has lost everything—her child, her husband, her (admittedly not great) spy/assassin job—and all she has to show for it are a bunch of dead bodies (including the body of the man who ruined her life) and yet another arrest for mass murder. That, I think, is supposed to be the tragedy here: Sook Hee could (possibly) have had the normal life she longed for, but her obsession with revenge (and with Joong Sang, himself) ruins any chance of that. Kwon Sook tells her as much shortly before Hyun Soo and Eun Hye are murdered, and Joong Sang tells Sook Hee that the real pain will begin once she kills him—which she does, giving way to the last shot of the film, which (in true cycle of violence style) echoes the beginning of the movie, with Sook Hee violently grinning as she’s arrested.

Of course, “revenge destroys you and everyone around you” is not the most original moral, as far as these things go, but that’s not really my problem here. I think my bigger problem is that I never quite buy that Sook Hee does long to have this normal life. We’re told she does, but . . . I don’t know, I never quite felt it. Maybe I would have if we got more into her acting career, or if we spent more time with her daughter, or if I ever bought her romance with Hyun Soo—but I never did. The actors are both fine separately, but I’m not convinced they have much chemistry together—frankly, I think Kim Ok Bin has the best chemistry with Kim Seo Hyung—and while I think Hyun Soo is supposed to come off as an awkward but ultimately good-hearted spy stuck between a rock and a hard place, he mostly struck me as a Nice Guy creeper, and I spent half the film chanting for his death. I totally buy Hyun Soo’s thing for Sook Hee, but I never quite buy her thing for him, and maybe because of that—because Sook Hee never seems all that invested in her relationship or her career or really becoming this new person who puts her old life behind her—I don’t think the tragic arc hits nearly as hard as it could—even though they kill off her small, adorable child, which I will admit surprised me. Likewise, I don’t think Sook Hee’s implied descent into villainy makes for a particularly strong or satisfying conclusion, either. It’s totally a cool shot, but the emotion doesn’t linger. Which . . . yeah, might be how I feel about the movie as a whole. I could totally watch it again, didn’t have a bad time at all, but was also definitely left with the impression that it could have been so much better with a stronger script.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: #Alive, Freddy vs. Jason, and Train to Busan

Well. 2020 has been . . . a lot, and will surely keep on being a lot right till the bitter end. No doubt at least one bit of catastrophic or otherwise world-shaking news will break between my posting this review and you reading it. And yet . . . it’s Halloween season. And I love Halloween season, and am determined to enjoy as much of it as I can.

Thus we begin our second annual HORROR BINGO.

#Alive

Year: 2020
Director: Jo Il-Hyeong
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Not really, no
Grade: Vanilla

Okay, so, technically, this movie doesn’t count for Horror Bingo; I actually watched it a few weeks ago and just haven’t had the opportunity to write it up yet. But I’m throwing it in here anyway because I really enjoyed #Alive a whole lot. It’s definitely a film that embodies 2020, Our Year of Quarantine, Misery, and Despair–except that it’s actually much more optimistic than that, and I’ve long been excited by horror that is optimistic, uplifting, or otherwise hopeful. One cool thing about this type of horror is that it can lead to interesting trope or genre subversions; after all, a thing going right is sometimes more shocking than a thing going horribly wrong.

I will admit to being a bit tired of protagonists who are, like, IDK, gamer loser boys? But I genuinely enjoyed Yoo Ah-In in the role; he’s pretty fantastic, which is great because we spend quite a bit of time with him alone in his apartment, trying to survive. The film takes its time here, really delving into Oh Joon-Woo’s emotional journey, and I absolutely love that. I also adore Park Shin-Hye as Kim Yoo-Bin, Joon-Woo’s badass neighbor. I became very invested in their survivor bond and enjoyed watching all the moments where they risked themselves to share food or otherwise help each other. In fact, I think my only real complaint about the film might be in the last act when a new character is introduced; I feel like the pacing is a bit off here, though I might feel differently with repeat viewings. I sometimes do.

Otherwise, yeah, this is a pretty fun Korean zombie film. Bonus points for some great music, fantastic booby traps, and also for being the rare film where social media is actually depicted in a positive light. This particular millennial appreciated that.

Freddy vs. Jason

Year: 2003
Director: Ronny Yu
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

NGL: This GIF is 116% better than this movie.

Last year, we rewatched Jason X, which is legit one of my favorites in the Friday the 13th franchise. This year, it was Freddy vs Jason’s turn, so we decided to make it our Free Space in Horror Bingo. Alas, Freddy vs Jason is actually even worse than I remembered, and I wasn’t exactly fond of it the first time around. The acting, the editing, the writing, Jesus, the writing. Of course, there are multiple cringeworthy lines, but the one that sticks out most is when our heroine decides– completely out of nowhere–to provide the worst exposition of all time with, “Freddy died by fire, Jason by water. How do we use that?” Oh God. I was dying. I was in serious fucking distress.

Also, let’s be clear here: Freddy Krueger is useless in this movie. Jason Voorhees kills, like, 22 of 23 people. Freddy gets one dude, one. When Freddy somehow holds his own against Jason after Lori drags his ass to the waking world? Nope, not buying it. Jason would obliterate this dude. And while I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the difficulties in coming up with a coherent storyline for this kind of crossover, like, come on. If your movie is titled Freddy vs. Jason, then either I wanna see a much better murder competition between these two, or way more battles between our titular villains, like, give me some Mortal Kombat shit, I am begging you.

Honestly, I have a lot to say about this movie, and very little of it is positive. Things I do genuinely like: A) Trey’s death scene (I cheered), B) Charlie’s death scene (surprisingly sad), C) the part where Charlie insists he can’t give Jason Voorhees mouth-to-mouth because he has asthma (“Kia, he has asthma!” LOL LOL LOL), and D) Katharine Isabelle, who is easily the MVP of the cast. (So it’s a bummer her part is so small–and that the director tried to go back on her contract and make her do nude scenes, ugh.) I honestly forgot just how many people were in this movie: Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette, Lochlyn Munro, a Zach Ward cameo, etc. This is delightful.

Then again: A) not to harp on this shit script, but aspiring writers, please don’t give your heroine two different back-to-back origin stories on why she doesn’t date (“my cherished boyfriend mysteriously ghosted me” and “my tragic dead mom”), B) also feel free to leave out any homophobic jokes (allegedly an improv, still total bullshit), C) also leave out any dumb possession scenes (Freeburg), D) or shitty death scenes (Kia), E) or bullshit resurrections (Freddy waking up Jason, somehow–although to be fair, Jason’s resurrections have never really made any sense). Finally, less laughable gratuitous nudity, if you please. Cause come on. Who buttons up their shirt just enough that one boob is sticking out all the time? Honestly.

Train to Busan

Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-Ho
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Yep, all of them
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed Train to Busan the first time I watched it; I liked it even more on the second go. I wonder how the translation differs between Viki and Netflix. I’m afraid it’s been far too long for me to compare.

My thoughts are largely the same here: while lousy redemptive fathers are even worse than loser gamer boys, Gong Yoo makes this shit work, like, this is the gold standard of daddy redemption arcs. The Feels in this movie are incredible. Obviously, Ma Dong-Seok is the best and thus his death hits very hard, but I feel invested in almost all the characters: the sisters, the baseball player, the pregnant wife, the train conductor, the small child who gives her father Judgment Eyes for two hours straight, etc. It remains impressive that I even feel a bit sorry for Selfish Asshole, especially since he’s directly responsible for so many deaths. This is an emotional movie; I definitely cried more than once and felt pretty wrung out after watching it. (Though, to be fair, I also found out that Trump was COVID+ at the same time, which, like, I have zero sympathy for that man. Still, I remain anxious for how this will impact the election; besides, the news in general is just overwhelming lately. My reaction was basically “. . .” because I’m lacking even the emotional bandwidth for proper schadenfreude these days.)

I do still wish at least one of the women in this movie had an action scene where they, you know, did something. It bothers me less this go around, but it’s still likely my biggest disappointment with the film. OTOH, Jong-Gil’s decision to open the door played much better for me on a second viewing. And I still love so much else about this film: the pacing, the action scenes, the clever use of tunnels, etc. Also, on a positive note: Train to Busan was the first thing I saw Choi Woo-Shik in, who I rather adore. (He’s such a puppy in this movie. The expression on his face when he enters the train car full of Zombified Teammates, oof. Poor puppy.)

I maintain that Small Child’s singing at the end of the film is a terrible idea and should have gotten our two survivors dead (rather than be the instrument of their salvation), and damn the themes and symbolism. Still, it’s not a serious complaint. It doesn’t look like either character is in the sequel, either, which I’m actually grateful for, and not just because Peninsula is, by all accounts, nowhere near as good as its predecessor. It’s just if a character makes it through a zombie apocalypse, I have zero interest in watching a sequel where they inevitable die. LONG LIVE SUNG-GYEONG AND SOO-AN, SURVIVORS OF THE ZOMBIE HELL TRAIN.

Triple Scoop Reviews: The Witch: Part I – The Subversion, Death Bell, and Guns Akimbo

The Witch: Part I – The Subversion

Year: 2018
Director: Park Hoon Jung
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I really enjoyed this Korean SF/F action-horror movie. I confess to not totally getting the title (something lost in translation, perhaps), but the movie itself is a pretty good time. Kim Da Mi is excellent here as Goo Ja Yun, an amnesiac who ran away ten years ago from one of those evil government facilities that likes to experiment on children. (A very specific sub-genre I’m apparently a sucker for, considering Dark Angel, Stranger Things, The Pretender, etc.) I also like Go Min Shi, who plays Ja Yun’s excitable best friend, and Choi Woo Shik, who plays, well, Chaotic Evil. I very much enjoyed the latter’s work in Train to Busan and Parasite, but it wasn’t until I saw this movie that I realized, oh, he’s not just talented; he’s hot. Lots of people try for smirky evil hot but only manage smirky obnoxious. Choi Woo Shik is not one of those people.

The Witch: Subversion – Part I has a slow, steady build with an explosive third act, and I’m looking forward to seeing a sequel. (I believe a trilogy is planned?) There are other things to talk about; unfortunately, they all include spoilers, and I’d prefer not to get into those now. But the movie is an awful lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who also enjoys a) this very specific sub-genre, and b) violence. Because there is most certainly violence. Obviously, I approve of this.

Death Bell

Year: 2008
Director: Chang
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Some. Mind the tags, in particular
Grade: Strawberry

This is apparently a hugely popular horror film in South Korea and was fun enough to watch, but ultimately, I’m pretty meh on the actual execution. I’m all about the basic setup, of course: a group of kids (and teachers) are trapped at a high school and forced to successfully solve a series of test questions, or else their classmates will be violently murdered. I like the idea of the bad guys here and their respective motives. I’d genuinely like to see this film remade by a different director with a better script.

But as is, I have several problems, like, almost none of the death traps work for me, not just because they’re such obvious Saw knock-offs, but because they’re way too elaborate and ridiculous to fit the actual scenario. (Some people are quick to accuse a horror movie of being a Saw knock-off just because its exceptionally violent and/or includes death traps, but these ones really do lack originality.) There is both a human and supernatural angle to this story; unfortunately, the supernatural stuff mostly feels mishandled. The last minute twist seems particularly cheap because it doesn’t feel supported by the actor’s performance at all–though it does, I suppose, at least make another character’s whole storyline less random in retrospect. (Still not terribly fond of it, TBH.)

Additionally, two quick notes: one, I’m all about horror movies acknowledging that girls have periods–seriously, I am all for it–but this mostly felt like an excuse for a weird upper thigh shot, so, eh? And two, any sympathy I might have had for one character completely goes out the window the second she realizes that everyone around her has mysteriously passed out and decides that this is a great time to put on her headphones, alone, in the middle of a school where multiple people have been murdered. I. You. What. WHY?!?!?!

Guns Akimbo

Year: 2020
Director: Jason Lei Howden
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Vanilla

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re into over-the-top, gonzo action flicks like me, but there are also things that don’t quite land. For one, I’m not sure I’m totally buying our Big Bad; Ned Dennehy is okay in the role, but I feel like other actors could’ve done more with it. Neal McDonough, for instance, was made for this kind of villain. Also might’ve enjoyed Clancy Brown, who Mek suggested for some punk Highlander vibes. More importantly, though, Guns Akimbo has this weird tendency to throw in a moral now and then that just doesn’t work. Like when Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) wonders how long it’s been since he went outside without staring at his phone, and I’m like, bitch, that’s some weak tea satire; are you actually mistaking that for an original perspective, and anyway, who the hell is thinking “gosh, I wish I’d stopped to smell the roses” when they’re stumbling around after waking up with gun hands? I feel, too, that there’s a small but annoying thread of “anti PC culture” running throughout the film, an impression that only seems validated after remembering the controversy around director Jason Lei Howden. Yikes.

All that being said, I could watch Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving in this all day. They’re both great here: Radcliffe has some absolutely phenomenal reactions–I am so down for all his absolutely bizarre post-HP projects–whereas Weaving is just as iconic here as she was in Ready or Not. She’s pretty fantastic in this, IMO. Not every bit of humor lands right (Rhys Darby’s character, sadly, feels like a series of punch down jokes, much as my Voltron geek girl heart hates to admit it), but a lot of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious; for example, I about died when Miles tried to cut off this cop’s tragic backstory. I like Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), too; she doesn’t get much to do, unfortunately, but I did find her interesting. Also, Nerf Guy!

If you like the concept of Guns Akimbo, there’s a decent chance you’ll like the movie: there are some really fun fight scenes, amusing bits of meta humor, one or two solid surprise moments, and just a very enjoyable soundtrack. I’m actually glad I watched it; I just really wish I could tweak it some, too. And yeah, it’d also be nice if the writer/director didn’t entirely suck as a person.