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Posts Tagged ‘Romantic comedy’

Midnight in Paris (2011)

March 22, 2013 3 comments

Midnight_in_Paris_Poster

As always, let’s begin with a little idle speculation. Suppose we have time travel on demand. Just as we can now pay a subscription and watch the latest movies online, suppose a no doubt larger fee would enable us to go wherever we want in time. What would we use it for? As it is, I can buy a ticket and fly to Europe, rent a car and enjoy the local food and wines but, being an old guy and a natural skinflint, I hoard my money and stay home. I suspect my reaction to the opportunity to travel in time would be equally negative. Do I really want to risk all those diseases they had back then for which I have no natural immunity? And then there’s the language, the money and the food. I’ve no confidence the Latin I learned in school will come back to me if I’m lost in Rome and want to find a good place to eat. I know Doctor Who has this nice convention that everyone, everywhere and everywhen speaks standard English and always offers free food that does not give the Tardis crew gastroenteritis with all the vomiting and diarrhoea, but I don’t have the Time Lord’s scriptwriters to keep me safe. I’m thinking it would all be better if we could just be content with what we have now.

Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen in the now

Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen in the now

 

Midnight in Paris (2011) is a flawed but nevertheless rather pleasing film written and directed by Woody Allen who, I must confess, has proved a somewhat hit and miss director over the decades. When he’s hot, he produces something magical. But, over his entire career, I think he’s missed the target more often than not. This is not to say the films I consider misses are all total failures. It’s just we seem not to share the same aesthetics when it comes to beauty in film-making. What makes it all the more surprising that I should like this film is the presence of Owen Wilson in the lead. This is the first film in which I actually like his performance — probably because he’s not so obviously trying to be funny. Anyway, he plays Gil Pender, a screenwriter with left wing tendencies (by US standards), wondering whether he has it in him to write the next great American novel. He hitches a ride to Paris with his fiancé’s family and we’re immediately expected to see them as the family from Hell. John (Kurt Fuller) is a stereotypical wealthy GOP ideologue, Helen (Mimi Kennedy) is the ultimate materialist who only sees dollar signs when she considers what she finds important, and the prospective mate, Inez (Rachel McAdams) — it’s not at all clear what our hero would ever have seen in her as a person. No matter how great she may be in bed (and this is by no means certain), this is not a person up with which you would want to put for any length of time. To complete the set of ghastly characters, a friend of Inez turns up. He’s Paul (Michael Sheen), one of these pedantic twits who can hold forth with apparent expertise on everything he encounters. The fact he’s making most of it up is just one of his more endearing qualities.

 

OK so the plot dynamic is simple to state. From the outset, it’s obvious our hero should find an excuse to avoid marrying this woman (and into her family). The only question is how he will talk himself into making the break. The device adopted is that, whether in reality or his imagination, he travels back in time and discusses his draft novel and his social problems with the cream of the Parisienne art community of the 1920s. A part of the fun of the film is spotting who gets dragged into view and, once he overcomes his surprise, how he relates to all these luminaries. The most important from our point of view are Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and Adriana (Marion Cotillard), mistress to Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo). It’s not a spoiler to confirm that, as you would want in a romantic fantasy, he makes the right decisions. Suggesting the trips in time are real, our hero finds an old book with an inscription by Adriana. This leads to a nice moment when Inez almost catches him stealing some earrings to give Adriana as a present.

Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson and Corey Stoll in the then

Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson and Corey Stoll in the then

 

I think the fundamental problem with the film is that it’s too simplistic. The main characters are actually heavy-handed caricatures without any real depth. Gil is self-effacingly diffident except when it comes to arguing politics with his prospective in-laws. Hence, the argument is out of character. He would either be assertive on a range of subjects all the time or he would be predominantly passive to keep the peace with his prospective family, i.e. we see the political argument only to make a black-and-white point about the incompatibility of the man and the family. Further, I don’t really believe he would have become one of Hollywood’s top scriptwriters, always in demand. He lacks that aura of confidence he would need to sell a script to sceptical producers. Worse, given the way he speaks to people, I’m not sure he would write the sentences quoted from the text of the book. No matter who or when he speaks, he never seems to have a profound thought in his head, yet his book is aspiring to say profound things about nostalgia. Finally, the film itself is somewhat superficial on the grass is always greener in an earlier time trope. That we time hop twice to make the point adds redundancy (as does the fate of the private detective).

 

Yet despite these cavils, I found the experience of sitting through Midnight in Paris quite enjoyable. The opening travelogue introduction is too long but, once we get started, we move along at a brisk pace and get where we need to go without breaking sweat. In saying this, I’m not just praising the professionalism with which the package is put together. That’s a given with a Woody Allen film. The notion of time travel for the purpose of reflection and self-analysis is rather elegant. I just wish it had been left more ambiguously, i.e. without the inscription suggesting the experience is real. I prefer to retain the possibility he fantasises the experiences of time travel while moderately drunk, critiques his own book and works out he should not marry Inez. But, as it stands, it has just enough to make it a good film.

 

Trouble with the Curve (2012)

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

The question I’d like to ponder for a brief moment before getting to the review itself is whether a film is better if it’s predictable. Should we be allowed the gentle reassurance of the scriptwriters that everything will turn out as we expect? It’s kind of relaxing. There’s no stress or tension. No worry. Just the gentle process of confirmation as, one-by-one, all the dominoes fall in the line we foresaw from the outset. It happens in violent films like Dredd. You know the hero and the rookie will kill a large number of bad people in the name of justice and walk out of the building without a scratch. The only suspense, if any, lies in the “how” it will all work out. The same happens in romantic comedy where we have to sit through two hours of watching our couple slowly edge towards each other. In Trouble with the Curve (2012), the model is probably the older style Western in which the ageing Texas ranger and younger partner ride into Dry Gulch in search of someone who may be good or bad. They meet a bounty hunter and, together as a team, they corner the wanted one and then have to decide what to do with him.

Amy Adams mixing with the ordinary folks

 

With Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) and Mickey (Amy Adams), we have a dysfunctional relationship between a father and daughter. The daughter has an imperfect relationship of uncertain provenance with a bland attorney. She’s up for partner in her own law firm. The father is a baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves and, with the season’s draft coming up, the big question is whether to pick the guy with the best stats. The film is asking how best to judge the worth of a human being. Do you look at a computer file with all the game records properly indexed and analysed. Or do you look the beast in the eye and ask if it can play the game (or become a partner as the token woman)?

Gus Lobell (Clint Eastwood) and Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake)

 

There’s nothing very earth-shattering in this plot. It’s been recycled endlessly. The father and daughter will more or less reconcile, the daughter will dump the bland one and take up with a more feisty dark horse — Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake). She may even reach a decision about whether she wants to be a partner in the bloodsucking firm for which she works. All this is obvious within the first five minutes and the only real question is whether the gentle progress to the end will be enjoyable.

 

I suppose I’m predisposed to like this film because, as a pensioner who’s as sharp as the proverbial knife, I find it interesting to watch how similarly grey-haired oldsters are portrayed. In this instance, we have a positive parade of elderly actors proving that, if you have Clint Eastwood involved, there will be no prosthetics turning younger “stars” geriatric. Nor will there be extensive use of CGI to add wrinkles to faces. Apart from one or two young faces, almost everyone of importance is at least fifty (although only a babe-in-arms at that age, really). This is actually fun. It could have been sentimentalised but, for the most part, there’s a steady stream of bile and bad temper, of the kind of banter men have worked on and honed over decades of “friendship”. The only real sentimentality comes in the relationship between Clint Eastwood’s Gus and Pete Klein (John Goodman). But even that has a hard business edge to it. Although the Head of Scouts looks out for his “friend”, he will fail to renew the contract if the man starts to make the wrong calls. There’s too much money involved to allow feelings to get in the way of commercially necessary decisions.

Pete Klein (John Goodman) being a friend

 

So Clint Eastwood is losing his eyesight — maybe this is not acting at his age. Since his character makes his living by travelling around the little leagues looking for talent, he needs to be able to see where he’s going and watch how the young prospects play. To protect the club, John Goodman gets the daughter to go on the road with her father to look at a red-hot prospect. This is a singularly unpleasant young man who can apparently hit everything thrown at him out of the field. Obviously, these people of talent are not picked because of their likeability. If they can pitch or hit, they’re in demand even though they’re unloveable. Despite all the angst, the daughter is very knowledgeable about baseball and between them, father and daughter work out whether this youngster is actually a good prospect. It’s an appropriately ironic deus ex machina that seals the deal and sees justice done all round. It’s a shame things like this don’t happen in real life. We could all benefit from meritocratic principles applied to everyone no matter what their status or position in society. In the midst of this, another scout of appropriate age appears and the daughter is naturally interested. Well, he annoys her into being interested. So there you have it. As a plot, there’s nothing to it. But I enjoyed it for Clint Eastwood’s performance. Amy Adams was good out in the real world with ordinary folk but less convincing in the law firm with the partners. Attorneys who act like that would never be taken seriously and get trampled on in the fight to be partner — unless that’s the point. Perhaps we’re supposed to see her heart is never really in the fight for the partnership. Either way, it’s an OK performance. I was pleasantly surprised by Justin Timberlake. He made a good shot at being the “love interest” and emerged looking like a real human being.

 

Overall this makes Trouble with the Curve a pedestrian plot, directed by the numbers by first-timer Robert Lorenz, but nevertheless reasonably enjoyable because of the quality of the central performances.

 

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episode fifteen to end

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Mercifully, we’re now into the final lap to end the race to the bottom. In a crisis, Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun) fails completely to reconcile his feelings for Kim Toon Hee (Park Min Young) as a man with her reality as an attractive woman. He therefore does the only thing confused young men in this situation do. First he saves the “man” he loves through a nice piece of argument before the student council called by Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo). He then goes round to break off the engagement with Ha Hyo-Eun (Seo Hyo-Lim), the naive woman he thought he would marry to cure himself of his homosexual tendencies, and then runs away into the hills. At this point, I need to refer to a change of law in California. For decades, therapists have been claiming success in the treatment of homosexuality as a medical disorder and asserting a “cure” is possible. This always has been a nonsense and the new law reflects this by banning gay conversion therapy. When signing the law, Governor Brown said this should consign the therapy “to the dustbin of quackery”. Obviously this news has arrived too late in South Korea to save this series.

King Jeongjo (Jo Sung-ha) meets Kim Toon Hee (Park Min Young) as a woman

In his mountain retreat, Lee Sun Jeon decides he loves Kim Toon Hee as a man. This is not an easy decision and, once made, it confirms the essential gayness of the character. When he sees Kim Toon Hee by the river, he runs up to “him” and gives him a hug — a public demonstration of affection, not caring whether it’s observed. With respect to the scriptwriters, this is not a psychological problem that can be cured by showing him the object of his affection is actually a woman. Indeed, having gone through the existential debate, Lee Sun Joon should be disgusted by Kim Toon Hee. She’s the wrong sex and not sexually attractive to Lee. Yet, of course, we now have to go through the equally embarrassing courtship as a heterosexual couple, endure Moon Jae-Sin (Yoo Ah-In) acting jealous, and despair of everyone else’s general lack of awareness. Even Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jong-Ki) is growing a little tiresome.

In the midst of all this, we discover King Jeongjo (Jo Sung-ha) has a plan to move the capital and thereby break the power of the nobility. It turns out he’s high on opium a lot of the time which explains his slightly erratic behaviour in choosing a cross-dressing woman, a gay man, a terrorist and a dilettante fashion guru of ambiguous sexuality to save his country. To give himself political cover, the king wants to recover a letter that was lost some ten years ago — a transparent McGuffin to dig a weak king out of a losing position. All the four “heroes” have to do is find the letter, discredit the nobility and prepare to run the new utopian capital city when it’s built. Not a bad day’s work for university students.

As a plot, I think the routine noble-born boy meets girl from the wrong side of the Joseon tracks would have been a better bet. When he defends the girl’s right to learn and advance herself that would have more force because everyone can see he’s going against convention. In this version, his progressiveness is masked by the gender confusion. Similarly, the political decision to relocate to what’s now Seoul could have been the basis of an interesting plot, but it’s left superficial and simply tacked on at the end to give emotional cover for the resolution of the four’s rite of passage. More importantly, an opportunity was missed in not expanding on the situation in which Cho Sun (Kim Min Seo) finds herself. She’s another of these very talented woman who’s kept in a cage.

Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jong-Ki) , Moon Jae-Sin (Yoo Ah-In) and Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun) — the future of Korea in their hands

As we have it, the whole thing comes to a head as a family squabble with the virtuous can-do young showing their fathers they will be good leaders in the future. That’s except for Ha In-Soo, son of Ha Woo-kyu (Lee Jae-Yong), the Minister of War and lackey-in-chief. They have both been portrayed as trading on their status without actually having many brains, so suffer the usual ignominious defeat. Magically, the son does finally show a little gumption. But it’s too late to earn him a reprieve.

I suppose I must forgive the scriptwriters. They are bound by the culture of South Korea and cannot yet run an honest prime-time series about gay love. So I’m completely at a loss as to why they should put themselves in difficulties by adopting the cross-dressing theme. As the series Dae Jang Geum and Dong Yi both amply demonstrate, South Korea can run a traditionally gendered story to highlight the need to reform women’s rights. Indeed, after the archery and hockey, this woman is increasingly shown as dependent on the men around her. What little spark she had seems to dim until it flickers slightly more brightly as she solves the problem of where the missing letter has been hidden. It’s somewhat ironic. She’s a lot more positive when no-one knows she’s a woman. When she has three men in on the secret, she’s a lot more needy. Frankly, Sungkyunkwan Scandal is a disaster.

For the first episodes, see Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — thoughts on the first eight episodes and Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episodes nine to fourteen.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episodes nine to fourteen

October 28, 2012 1 comment

Well as we tread heavily into episode nine of Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010), we’re into revenge as Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo), our Student President, has been humiliated. So he frames Kim Toon Hee (Park Min Young) for theft. King Jeongjo (Jo Sung-ha) involves himself and gives the identification of the true criminal(s) as the next exam question. This pits the Gang of Four against the rest of the students. So we now get a tedious investigation that’s enlivened by one absurdity and another touching moment. As a team, they realise the record of who passed on the stolen goods to the merchants to fence would be held by the head merchant. They plan to break in. The way it works out, Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun) is the one who enters the storeroom. He’s spotted and the local law enforcement is summoned. Moon Jae-Sin (Yoo Ah-In) intercepts them in the street and while he’s fighting, Kim Toon Hee disguises herself as a courtesan and enters the storeroom to rescue him. When the guards finally arrive, they find Kim on top of Lee. Embarrassed by what they think is a routine tryst, the guards leave. Seizing the moment, our dynamic duo get over their own embarrassment in their new sex roles and find a stack of highly embarrassing records. When the guards are about to return, Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jong-Ki) persuades Cho Sun (Kim Min Seo) to parade by with her team of courtesans as a distraction. Our duo escape with keys records. This is absurd because, in the space of the fight with the guards and with no prior warning, Kim has to find a dress and make-up, and then find a place to transform herself into a courtesan, classy hair style and all. She then has to get from her changing room, past the guards and to the storeroom. Only in a Korean drama would such a thing be thought possible. The second more affecting moment comes when Moon Jae-Sin talks with the young man who physically removed the goods from the University. He says some pleasing things about the relationship between brothers. So now Lee Sun Joon has seen Kim in the “wrong” dress, he’s even more confused. Poor boy. Anyway, while he’s agonising what to do about his feelings, he must also decide what to do with the evidence they have collected which may incidentally implicate his father.

Micky Yoochun and Park Min Young as the inadvertently straight couple

We’re back into the tedious moralising rut again. The fantasy reformist version of this King has given our foursome a crash course on just how awful life is for the poor, presumably so they’ll become righteous civil servants and protect the people in the future. As Kim puts it to Jung Yak-Yong (Ahn Nae-Sang), the country has been in the hands of men and look what a mess they have made of it. All the bribes have been flowing upwards into the hands of the corrupt nobility and, starved of funds, neither the King nor the people can do anything about it. So now all eyes focus on Lee Sun Joon. What will be do with the sliver of evidence against the nobility? They are the true criminals but how does that help Kim. Indeed, if she cannot save herself, does she deserve to be an “official”?

Song Jong-Ki and Yoo Ah-In as the other couple

Ah well, all this is academic because, when it comes to the hearing in front of the King, Lee Sun Joon hands over the book showing the nobles are the real criminals and the young thief comes forward to confess. Isn’t life wonderful when everything comes out right! I now propose to pass over the island episode as terminally embarrassing. It seems Lee Sun Joon is brain dead because despite seeing Kim as a woman, he still seems fixated by the restoration of male attire. Cho Sun is quicker off the mark and takes the heartbreak like a woman of experience should. Similarly the hockey match is painful in all its aspects. The best approach is to see all this as cultural ambivalence in modern Korea about the struggle of a young man to come out as gay. By his own admission, this man has had no friends to date and certainly no sexual experience of any kind. If he now finds himself attracted to a person he has labelled as male, this fills him with guilt and, with nods and winks from Ku Yong-Ha, he has a big decision to make. Should he reject the increasingly tragic Ha Hyo-Eun (Seo Hyo-Lim) who’s throwing herself at him, or live as a friend with Kim?

The only feature which is even vaguely of interest is the plan of Ha Woo-kyu (Lee Jae-Yong), the Minister of War, to capture our Iljimae figure. He’s been paying a skilled swordsman to go round town in the same black outfit, killing merchants and lots of the royal guards. The hope is this will lure out Moon Jae-Sin to defend his reputation of an all-round nice Robin Hood figure. We then get the predictable confusion as the stupid Moon Jae-Sin goes out to confront the imposter only to pick up a wound. When he gets back to the University, our tender flower helps bind the wound. The self-righteous Lee Sun Joon sees what he thinks is an embrace and is naturally jealous. So now we finally get to the scandal in the series title. Based on Lee Sun Joon’s shocked reaction, Kim Toon Hee and Moon Jae-Sin are accused of having a homosexual relationship. Ha In-Soo convenes a special council to try them based on what he believes will be conclusive evidence from Lee Sun Joon. The only way they will beat this charge is by admitting Moon Jae-Sin is the masked Robin Hood — not a bad trap. Incidentally, the identity of the imposter going around doing the killing is fascinating. Otherwise, Sungkyunkwan Scandal continues in a downward spiral of embarrassing awfulness as the screenwriters fail to decide how to deal with the issue of homosexuality.

For the remaining episodes, see Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — thoughts on the first eight episodes and Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episodes fifteen to end.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — thoughts on the first eight episodes

October 26, 2012 3 comments

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) is difficult to review without my words sounding contemptuously patronising. So let’s bite the bullet and explain the problem. This is set in Sungkyunkwan University in the late Joseon era during the reign of King Jeongjo (Jo Sung-ha). As you might expect, despite the past role models like Dae Jang Geum, women continue to be considered nothing more than baby producers. This series plays the now well-established game of the cross-dressing woman of surpassing ability who outshines the men at their own game. This time, we have Kim Toon Hee (Park Min Young) who’s been trying to pay for her brother’s medical treatment by writing crib sheets for students seeking to enter the University. Unfortunately, her family has also borrowed money from Ha Woo-kyu (Lee Jae-Yong), the Minister of War, and a lascivious and unpleasant man who decides he would rather take our heroine as his mistress than have her pay off the debt. As a result of the usual complications involving a young man, Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun), she finds herself tricked into taking the entrance exam to the university. In an unexpected burst of honesty, she admits to the King, who’s invigilating the exam, that she’s doing so as a result of an agreement to take another’s place. Needless to say, Lee Sun Joon stands up to declare he’s proud of doing so because, wait for it, he wants to test whether the King will uphold the rules. In this case, the King’s punishment for the pair is to commit them to University and arrange for them to share the same room. As The Great Queen Seon Deok quickly learned in a barracks environment, this is not an insurmountable difficulty when all around her expect to see a man.

The F4 (Boys Over Flowers) in Josean times: Song Jong-Ki, Park Min Young, Park Yoo Chun and Yoo Ah-In

So now you see my problem. It’s the same old unrealistic plot of a woman who looks feminine at all times, passing herself off as a man to get ahead. To add the usual spice to proceedings, women found inside the University compound will be killed, tortured or generally made to feel ashamed of themselves for breaking the rules. The series therefore claims to walk a tightrope with our heroine always on the verge of being revealed, but somehow scraping by. So let’s cut to the crux of the problem with this as a plot in a romantic comedy. Since this is supposedly light and fluffy entertainment, the King is not going to attach one strong horse to each of our heroine’s four limbs and encourage them to move away. The resulting parting the ways would destroy the mood and make sex difficult for her afterwards. So there’s absolutely no suspense. There will be a marriage at the end of it and everyone will live happily every after. Such is the way of Korean drama and drama elsewhere, for that matter. Period reality is watered down and no-one will be “made an example”.

At some point, men around her will either fall in love with the appearance i.e. the men will be homosexual and so not interested in her as a woman, or the men will realise she’s actually a woman and therefore have to decide what to do about it. Obviously, openly showing affection to her when cross-dressed is going to get funny looks from a relatively intolerant society. But persuading her to admit her sex is going to be a challenge if this admission is going to get her killed. In The Great Queen Seon Deok, this didn’t matter too much because she was either training or fighting alongside the lads, and killing as many of the enemy as possible. Indeed, she died a virgin queen. But this new series is overtly sexualising the woman by having Lee Sun Joon spend time looking at her lips and, presumably, fantasising about kissing “him”. We also get the soft porn version of her undressing in candlelight and having a well-earned bath after becoming top archer, the glow of the flickering flame reflecting off the sheen of moisture on her shoulders. . . Sorry, I have to stop at this point because episodes such as this are gratuitously insulting titillation for the men watching. Correspondingly, the casting of a large number of young hunks is to keep the female viewers happy as we’re allowed to catch sight of bare chests every now and then. Just to reinforce the point, this is a prime-time show and just as there’s not going to be any torture or death, there’s also not going to be any sexual activity shown. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Except this script is actually not completely unrealistic and, in the early episodes, reasonably endearing as stories go. Despite its romantic comedy leanings, it has a slightly hard edge as events inside the University are matched by the political machinations in the Court. As always, there are conspiracies afoot. So there’s real poverty in the capital and the nobility have no real conception of the lives the common people. Into this mix comes one of these dashing masked men (like Iljimae except this time he’s called Moon Jae-Sin (Yoo Ah-In)) who bounds across rooftops like he’s attached to wires and shoots arrows with remarkable inaccuracy — he misses the Minister of War in one of his early attacks. This adds an element of mystery to proceedings because we’re not supposed to recognise which of the students is playing the role of this agent provocateur — appropriately, he’s the son of the Minister of Justice.

Jeon Tae-Soo following in his father’s footsteps as a villain

The two features of the first episodes are the discovery of the deception by Jung Yak-Yong (Ahn Nae-Sang). He’s one of the King’s men who’s been sent to work in the University for an unspecified reason. Fortunately, he has no interest in her as a woman — he’s a brains man — and, as soon as she wins the archery competition, he’s a fan. He’s also caught because everyone knows he’s been giving “him” medical treatment and therefore cannot have failed to detect her true sex. This catches him as a conspirator and he will suffer a worse fate than her for allowing the deception to continue. And, as you will have gathered, the boys have to train our girl to be an ace archer. As minor plots, we have Cho Sun (Kim Min Seo), a high-class courtesan who’s interested in our girl as a man. The Secretary of War has two children. The naive Ha Hyo-Eun (Seo Hyo-Lim) who decides she’s in love with Lee Sun Joon at first sight, and Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo) who plays the villain as the University’s Student President. Not surprisingly he’s out to do down anyone who does not show him due respect. All in all, it’s a battle for hearts and minds as the dynamic duo preach honesty and a meritocracy rather than entrenched clan and/or class advantages. Ah ha! So this is one of these sageuks with a modern political agenda to argue for social change in contemporary society.

The archery contest itself is endlessly drawn out but, as anyone with a few brain cells would predict, the team of losers beats the odds-on favourites with our plucky girl coming through a sabotage-induced injury to beat Ha In-Soo in the final. That’s the ultimate indignity for the Minister of War’s son to bear. So now we get the romantic complexities building up. The ultimately beautiful courtesan wants our cross-dressed heroine in bed. The Minister of War’s daughter wants our hero in bed. And the circle of people who’ve had the sense to identify our heroine as a woman is growing. The Iljimae figure is now smitten — as evidenced by the continuous hiccups when in her presence. As an aside, he’s also got fantastic healing powers. He digs the arrow out of his waist, plasters on a few herbs Dae Jang Geum style, shoots a few arrows himself in friendly competition, and is completely healed the next day — Wolverine should take lessons. And Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jong-Ki) the manipulative fourth member of our little group, hasn’t made up his mind on what to do about the situation. I’m seriously considering giving up but, having come this far, I suppose I’d better see what dirty secrets the nobles are trying to hide. More to follow as Sungkyunkwan Scandal continues.

For the next episodes, see Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — thoughts on episodes nine to fourteen and Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episodes fifteen to end.

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

Well, we’re into the final episodes of Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu with Seo In Woo (Lover Boy) (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor) ‘fessing up to everything — even to stealing Ma Hye Ri’s (Kim So Yun) credit cards and cell phone at the ski resort so they would meet. Jeni Ahn (Park Jung Ah) also admits to being in on the conspiracy. Now our couple must adjust to the new reality. At first, she’s into self-pity, lying at home feeling sorry for herself, not answering her phone and worrying everyone at the office. What does Lover Boy want her to do? Just clear his father’s name. He died of a heart attack in prison as a murderer. We then see the significance of the football boots. He promised to buy them for his son but was diverted and framed for the murder before he could pass them on. Lover Boy also explains that he saw Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy) as a child at her home. Denied help, his mother couldn’t stand being in Korea without her husband, so they went to America where she was killed in a traffic accident. Left on his own, he was adopted. Yet again, he refuses to apologise for using her to investigate her father.

Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun)

Angry she goes to her father. Bad Papa instructs her to quit as a prosecutor and marry the man he chooses. For once, she stands up to him. Later she finds a recording Lover Boy made for her alarm clock when he says he’s sorry for the pain to come. So we get her confronting him and demanding respect. At last, she’s trying to become a real person. This bring us to the classic line, “I love you, you bastard!” which does rather sum it up well. And then we get a kiss for real. At last she feels she can breathe freely. But instead of leaping into bed to celebrate — this being a Korean drama — they go outside and she remembers the boy who came to their house to assert his father’s innocence. She took pity on him and gave him banana milk and a cookie which, in line with his friendly character and allergy to bananas, he threw on the ground.

Seo In Woo (Lover Boy) (Park Shi Hoo)

So because there are three more episodes to go, they decide they’re not a couple (despite the real kiss) and she gets back into the investigation, talking honestly to Shin Jung Nam, the security guard who claimed to see enough to blame Lover Boy’s dad. Lover Boy does the follow-up to soften up the man. Finally, Shin Jung Nam admits he took the large sum of money that was left at the scene of the murder. When Bad Papa realised he’d been spotted, he paid the hospital to treat the guard’s son and told the guard to keep the money he’d found. Meanwhile Bad Papa realises Lover Boy has been using his daughter to investigate the murder. They meet and he accuses Lover Boy of seducing his daughter as revenge. Lover Boy offers to give up his daughter if he admits the murder. It now gets painfully melodramatic. Bad Papa apologises to his wife for being prepared to break all the rules to get out of poverty. Seeing the writing on the wall, Bad Papa agrees to confess if Lover Boy will never see his daughter again. My pain level is rising fast as Lover Boy and Ma Hye Ri continue to insist they’re not in a relationship. He apologises, again, for using her and the script writers pile on the romantic angst. The scenes with the mother add fuel to the flames of unnecessary pain. All we need is for Bad Papa to admit all and the happy couple to walk off into the sunset.

Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo)

So finally he explains how he killed the man who was blackmailing him and framed Lover Boy’s father. It was all a dirty business deal with a politician standing in the shadows to give planning permission and wave through permits. He paints it as self-defence when the blackmailer attacked him. Lured on by greed, he kept quiet, the wrong man went to jail and died there. This is wonderful but there’s a legal wrinkle. If it was an accident or self-defence, there’s a seven year period of limitations on the prosecution. This has expired. But if it was murder. there’s a fifteen year period and he could still be prosecuted. Feeling too guilty at he pain he’s causing, Lover Boy decides to stop, so Jeni Ahn releases all the accumulated evidence to the Prosecutor’s office. To add further embarrassment, Lover Boy now volunteers to be Bad Papa’s lawyer.

Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo) and Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun)

With everything to play for, Bad Papa’s business starts to collapse while Lover Boy goes to talk to the corrupt politician Kim and blackmails him into giving evidence in support of Bad Papa. Predictably it’s Lover Boy who ultimately wins the day because he prepares an animated presentation, CSI-style, that convinces the prosecutors the death was basically an accident. A court formally declares Lover Boy’s dad innocent and there are smiles all round, except Bad Papa’s business collapses and creditors strip the family home of everything moveable. Bad Papa and Mum set up a bakery and, when all the guilt has subsided, our happy couple are finally free to be happy ever after. As a postscript, Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo) actually proposes marriage to Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) which proves common sense can prevail even in daft Korean drama.

This is a great shame. After a rocky start, Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu picked up speed only to die in the final furlongs. When you run a race, the pace should pick up as you reach the end and not focus on the losing horse being dragged kicking and neighing across the finish line. The ending is agony prolonged to excruciating levels. At its core this is a good but slight story. Everything could and should have been wrapped up in no more than ten episodes. Spinning this out into sixteen episodes was a catastrophic mistake. Adding to the problems were the complete lack of credibility in the primary characters played by Kim So Yun and Park Shi Hoo. Kim So Yun was a victim of the script which gave her no chance of appearing completely sane while Park Shi Hoo looks good but continues to act woodenly. I actually felt Choi Jung Woo came out rather better as the homicidal father. He did at least fight to defend his position and then made an honest confession. He actually managed a smile as the bread-maker in the new bakery business run by his wife. While Han Jung Soo and Choi Song Hyun demonstrate how difficult it is for any couple to get together in Korean culture. Life over there sure is tough when it comes to romance.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Somewhere in England, many moons ago, the powers-that-be decided the best way to make films was to borrow the concept of the repertory company from the theatre. So, as we work our way through the Ealing comedies to the Carry On films and beyond, a template for success emerged. Essentially this involves taking a small group of well-known actors, dropping them into a “situation” and watching what happens. These victims of circumstance are usually friends, often living together in the same village or part of a city. The catalyst can be anything from a cargo of whisky washing up on shore to the need for the WI to raise money for a worthy local cause. Once the characters are established and the stimulus applied, the cast twists and turns in the wind until all the loose ends have been chased down and resolved. The film ends when as much of the inherent tragedy has been dispelled and there’s enough hope to inspire the paying customers when they leave the cinema. Never let it be said that any British film carrying the label of a comedy is anything other than a pottage of misery that ends with half a smile.

Judi Dench and Celia Imrie arrive

 

So it is with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) in which director John Madden works from a screenplay by Ol Parker based on a novel by Deborah Moggach. We start off by meeting our indomitable character actors. We find Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) two months after the death of her husband. She was married forty years, was never troubled with any decision-making and, consequently, has no way of dealing with all the debts he left behind other than by selling the flat and going somewhere cheap to live. Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) is a recently retired civil servant who lost his lump sum when he invested in his daughter’s IT business. The initial scenes as he and Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton) look around a flat in sheltered accommodation nicely captures their despair. Murial Donnelly (Maggie Smith) was in service. She was highly competent, but when she grew old and had trained her successor, she was discarded in much the same way her employers might throw out an old washing machine. Now she needs a hip replacement and the waiting times in the UK are a minimum of six months. Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is a retiring High Court judge who wants to return to his old home in India where he left a friend forty years ago. Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) and Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) are getting old and desperately lonely. They hope to remedy their situation by joining the others in retirement in Jaipur as the first residents of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Old and Beautiful).

Maggie Smith not feeling comfortable in her surroundings

 

From the outset, we have to suspend disbelief. The hotel is run by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). He’s the stereotypical Wilkins Micawber, always convinced something will turn up. Unfortunately, his head is so far up into the clouds of optimism, he forgets to actually do anything to make any of his plans a success. The idea he could have advertised his hotel in England and organised the arrival of these seven guests is laughable. Equally absurd is the reaction of the magnificent seven when they discover the hotel is slightly less well-appointed than they might have thought from the Photoshopped pictures. However, we’re not to dwell on such matters. Our heroes arrive, they move in. That gets us started.

Tom Wilkinson playing a straight bat

 

The city of Jaipur is beautifully filmed and the hotel is wonderfully dilapidated. So, with one exception, they all use it as a base. Tom Wilkinson immediately sets off in pursuit of his old friend, Bill Nighy takes to wandering round and soaking up the atmosphere. Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie join the local social club and start searching for singles. Maggie Smith goes into hospital to have her operation, Judi Dench gets a job in a local call centre, advising on how to make telephone sales pitches to elderly people in England, and Penelope Wilton sits around the hotel in dark despair. As a local subplot, Dev Patel is in love with a girl who works at the call centre but her face does not fit into his mother’s plans for an arranged marriage. Continuing in the same order, Tom Wilkinson’s search is a mixture of fear and longing. The resolution of this thread is unexpected and affecting. Bill Nighy is a civil servant who has never managed to change a lightbulb. He’s defeated by practicality yet desperately loyal to his wife. In a way, both men are somewhat unworldly but do their best to fit in, no matter where they may find themselves (even if it means partaking of a little apple smoke). Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie are driven by desperation. They fear dying alone but have been trying too hard to meet people and make friends. They end with varying degrees of success.

Bill Nighy scouting the town

 

The most interesting thread is given to Maggie Smith and I find myself undecided on whether she could make the transformation we see. In England and immediately on her arrival in India, she appears to be irredeemably racist. Putting the best possible interpretation on what happens, we’re supposed to think this was born out of ignorance. Because she had never met “different” people, she instinctively feared and so refused contact with them. However, when she finally does allow herself to interact with some of the local people, she embarrasses herself into rethinking her prejudice. In a way, the result is a somewhat ironic return to her life of service. Judi Dench gives a wonderful performance as a woman relearning what it’s like to have a life. It’s a warm and, at times, amusing journey as she remembers the time she met her husband-to-be on a carousel and he put his arm around her waist to steady her on a rising and falling horse. Watching her give up the past and embrace the future is a delight. Penelope Wilton gets her way and goes back to England (and not a moment too soon). Dev Patel is also rescued from himself, so it all works out well in the end. Ah yes. Here comes the catchphrase. It does all come out well in the end. If things are not well at this moment, it can’t be the end.

 

So on balance, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is worth seeing. I smiled and shed a tear or two. It’s a classic ensemble British comedy so the tears won out, albeit there had to be a little finagling in the plot to get everything to end as it should. Without a little contrivance, life would be too dull.

 

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