Take a Drink: whenever somebody eats (especially gukbap, mmm… gukbap)
Let me count the ways I love the…
Take a Drink: whenever somebody disrespects Song
Take a Drink: “Commie”
Take a Drink: for military/police oppression
Take a Drink: whenever you’re too damn mad not to
Do a Shot: when the finest Korean actor of his generation meows
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Everybody knows the Oscars, but what you may not know is that many countries have their own Awards shows celebrating the best films produced within their borders. South Korea’s are called the Blue Dragon Film Awards, and with the consistent high quality of films coming out of their industry, it usually fields an impressive lineup of nominees.
Just like the Oscars, though, a bullshit Transformers pick sneaks in here and there.
This year, they were dominated by one film- The Attorney. Based on the early career of former populist President Noh Moo-hyun, Song Kang-ho stars as a self-made attorney finally enjoying the fruits of his hard labor and dedicated to taking it easy. He’s drawn into the turbulent politics of the time, though, when the son of the proprietor of his favorite restaurant is nabbed in a government sweep of “Commie” student groups. He soon finds himself in contention with a militaristic administration whose respect of democratic principals and the law only extends up until it threatens their power.
While those unfamiliar with modern Korean history may not realize it, this is a biopic, of a well-loved figure no less, and it hinges on the central performance. Thankfully, they get one of the one or two best Korean actors out there (and one of the finest in the world), Song Kang-ho, and predictably he knocks it out of the park.
It’s what I do, baby.
He’s a bit blinkered at first, enjoying his comfortable life after working so hard to get it, and becoming a little less empathetic and a little more self-centered and reactionary the more success he experiences. This isn’t a hagiography, but a warts and all approach. As he takes what he assumes will be a simple case, and begins to uncover the depths of injustice that perpetuate his government’s behavior, he slowly ignites, becomes a man on fire willing to risk it all to defeat this maddening system.
First-time director Yang Woo-suk may not have the mind-expanding style of some of his Korean peers, but he delivers a polished production that rivals anything coming out of Hollywood at a fraction of the price. He also shows a great control of tone, starting things out more light-hearted, establishing characters and relationships in an empathetic, heart-warming manner. This makes the resulting police state actions so much more infuriating.
Kwak Do-won, always a strong presence, is fucking chilling as the police ringleader, torturing the students to get “confessions” in a completely disassociated way, especially when he ups the ante in a uniquely korean way.
The light-hearted tone to begin the film is a bit too light-hearted. It’s a little rope-a-dope in its comedy, so when the blow of the main storyline comes, it feels like a suckerpunch. There’s even a jaunty Woody Allen-style tune over the opening credits.
Just look at this poster, I mean, damn…
Once we get into the main legal case, the pacing becomes a bit uneven, perhaps due to Korean movies’ seemingly contractual obligation to run longer than two hours. The score lays tings on a bit thick as well, reinforcing the impression I got that Yang was content with safe conventional choices and techniques, content to deliver a perfectly fine, slightly run-of-the-mill biopic instead of taking more daring stylistic and story choices in an effort to deliver something truly special. Yeah, this bad boy’s going to win all the Blue Dragons, if they’re anything like Oscar.
The Attorney may feel like a too-conventional Oscar bait-style biopic at times, but is at its best when it’s raging against a system so corrupt that defense lawyers say their cases are purely about negotiating a better sentence…
…or an administration that fosters a complete perversion of civil liberties in the name of national security.
…. too familiar.