VIFF Film Reviews: Helpless; Twilight Portrait; Werewolf Boy

A decade ago, the South Korean film industry was driven by the energy of youth: original ideas flourished. The young directors have grown up: their films are more polished and technically first rate. But the ideas are still there, and the filmmakers have not lost their sense of optimism.

I can’t say the same about the Russians.

Helpless. (Drama, 117 minutes, South Korea, director Byun Youngjoo). Driving his fiancee Seon-yeong to meet his parents, young veterinarian Mun-ho hops out of the car at a freeway rest stop to get snacks and when he returns — no Seon-yeong. Getting no help from the police, Mun-ho engages the dubious services of his old friend, a corrupt ex-cop. The subsequent investigation uncovers a trail of brutal loan sharks, stolen identities and murder. A well-paced mystery thriller.

Twilight Portrait (Drama,  105 minutes, Russia,  director  Angelina Nikonova). Stop by your doctor to get a prescription for happy pills before seeing this dismal depiction of modern Russia. Stumbling home to her husband after an overnighter with another man, social worker Marina is raped by three policemen. After she recovers, she tracks down her main assailant. And offers herself as his sex slave and punching bag. Oh, there’s metaphors and allegories by the bottle-full here, but the North American viewer is left with a despairing view of Russian men, who are either incompetent or violent, but always pickled on vodka.

Werewolf Boy. (Drama, 122 minutes, South Korea, director Jo Sunghee). If you want your tears jerked, this film is just the ticket. When a city family moves to the country, they soon discover they are sharing the land with a feral teenager. The efforts of the eldest daughter, nineteen-year-old Su-mi, to civilize the boy serve up lots of humour, but they are sabotaged by the obnoxious landlord Ji-tae who wants Su-mi for himself. The twist here is that the story is told in flashback by an aging Su-mi who revisits the farm after forty-seven years only to discover . . . . Well, get your hanky out.

The Story So Far

Updated: 28 September 2012

Films seen so far: 23.

The Best.  Becoming Redwood (Drama). Hebreo: the Search for Salomone Rossi (Documentary)(This film is in the “Karajan” screening).

Worth Seeing. Helpless (Drama); A Werewolf Boy (Drama); Hunter’s Bride (Opera).

Most Quirky. Mountain Runners (Documentary).

Avoid. Breakfast with Curtis (Supposedly a comedy).

The Rest. The Flat; The Great Northwest; My Father and the Man in Black; Camel Caravan; Revision; Love in the Medina; No Job for a Woman; Blood Relative; Day of All Saints; The Sound of the Bandoneon; Little Trips 2; Persistence of Vision; Side by Side; Karajan–the Second Life; Hebreo: the Search for Salomone Rossi; Wagner’s Dream; Helpless; Twilight Portrait; A Werewolf Boy.

About aharmlessdrudge

Way back during the late Bronze age -- actually it was the 1950s -- all of us in high school had to take a vocational test to determine our interests and, supposedly, our future careers. I cannot remember the outcome, but I do recall one question that gave me pause. "If you were to win a Nobel prize, would it be in literature or in physics?" I hesitated over the question: although I enjoyed mathematics and science more than English class, I did have a couple of unfinished (and very bad) novels hidden away at home. I cannot remember what I chose back then, but the dilemma followed me to university, where I switched from mathematics to English and -- after a five-year stint in journalism -- back to mathematics. I recently retired as a professor of statistics. Retirement. What a good chance to revive my literary ambitions. I have finished a novel -- more about that in good time -- and a rubble of drafts of articles about mathematics and statistics is taking up space on my hard disk.
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