Monthly Archives: September 2015

Capsule film reviews: Even more foreign LGBT movies

‘Night Flight’ (South Korea)
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2014
Director: Leesong Hee-il
Starring: Kwak Si-yang, Lee Jae-joon and Choi Jun-ha
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

nightflight

Photo courtesy of Finecut.

“Night Flight” is a very well-done story of loneliness and survival. It follows three former friends who have grown apart during high school. Gi-taek (Choi Jun-ha) uses comic books to escape from real life where he is bullied by his classmates, Gi-woong (Lee Jae-joon) tries to distance himself from everyone and expresses himself only through fighting, and Yong-ju (Kwak Si-yang) is realizing his sexuality and the feelings he’s had for Gi-woong since middle school. The seeming hopelessness of overcoming the teenage experience is always achingly sad, and it’s particularly well illustrated in this film. “Night Flight” is perfectly paced and thoroughly explores the relationships between each of the characters. Although it’s quite upsetting and violent throughout, it provides a satisfying ending. The least successful element of the film is its odd and out-of-place soundtrack — especially during the end credits, where the poignant final scene is cut off with the jarring sound of some jaunty indie folk song for some reason unbeknownst to me.

‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ (France)
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Salim Kechiouche
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content.
Grade: A-

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Photo courtesy of Wild Bunch.

“Blue is the Warmest Color” has been one of the most critically acclaimed LGBT films in recent years, and it’s really pretty good. It’s a great, long (long, long) movie with the world’s longest, most in-depth sex scene. It’s almost comical how long and in-depth the sex scenes are in “Blue is the Warmest Color,” but it’s fitting because every scene is quite long and in-depth. I know it’s a very American thing to emphasize, but, damn, this movie is long. The story follows Adèle’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) coming-of-age. She begins as a 15-year-old high school student struggling to convince herself she’s interested in boys, but eventually realizes she’s much more interested in an older, blue-haired painter named Emma (Léa Seydoux). The film artfully and thoroughly follows Adèle and Emma through the highs and lows of a first love. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is realistic — often harshly. It’s a well-told story with a strong ending, though, so it’s obvious to see why it’s become so beloved since its 2013 release.

‘Schoolboy Crush’ (Japan)
Release Date: Aug. 6, 2007
Director: Kôtarô Terauchi
Starring: Yoshikazu Kotani, Atsumi Kanno and Yuuki Kawakubo
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

schoolboycrush

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

Wow, what a wild ride. Although “Schoolboy Crush” bills itself as some sort of sexy, twisted romance taking place in an all-boys boarding school in Japan, it’s actually more like three entire seasons of a soap opera condensed into a brisk 88 minutes. Not to be confused with the gay porn of the same name, “Schoolboy Crush” follows Aoi (Yoshikazu Kotani), a teacher who discovers that an escort he recently slept with is a new student in his class. To say that literally everything happens in this movie is not even that much of an exaggeration. There’s some kidnapping, suicide, bullying, stalking, prostitution, blackmail, love triangle, comas, tragic family backstory, marine biology… There’s even a very exciting scene where somebody gets beaten with a candelabra inside the church. So much zany stuff happens, but “Schoolboy Crush” is still remarkably boring because they hardly even get to the actual romance that was supposed to be central to the plot. At least, I think that’s what the movie was supposed to be about.

‘Free Fall’ (Germany)
Release Date: May 23, 2013
Director: Stephan Lacant
Starring: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt and Katharina Schüttler
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

freefall

Photo courtesy of Edition Salzgeber.

“Free Fall” is a German film about Marc (Hanno Koffler), a police officer in training, who begins having a secret relationship with a fellow officer despite living with his pregnant girlfriend. I feel like I should keep this short because you’ve surely read this review before. Everybody has seen this movie before. It plays out exactly as it always does in these kinds of movies: Marc is very conflicted about his newfound feelings for men. He tries to deny them, but is unable to resist. He acts like an asshole to everybody. His girlfriend becomes upset. So does his boyfriend. Everything eventually unravels. It’s made well enough, but “Free Fall” is super predictable and doesn’t have anything new to offer. The lack of diversity and creative storytelling in queer movies continues to frustrate me. Why bother continuing to make the same movie over and over again? If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Skip “Free Fall.”

Theater: Shakespeare OC presents ‘Pirates of Penzance’

Alex Bodrero (The Pirate King, foreground) with Max Black and Nikolai Fernandez (immediately behind him) in Shakespeare Orange County's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, September 10-26, 2015. In background, left and right, are Jacob Lansberg and James Quesada. Photo by Amelia Barron

Alex Bodrero (The Pirate King) with Max Black and Nikolai Fernandez in Shakespeare Orange County’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” Photo courtesy of Amelia Barron

To close their summer season, Shakespeare Orange County cordially invites the audience aboard the goofiest opera-singing pirate ship around with a uniquely intimate production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Director Peter Uribe, whose background in rock operas includes a six-month tour of the UK working on a Pete Townshend-approved production of The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” said he hopes to infuse Shakespeare OC’s debut musical with this kind of energy.

“The kind of mantra we live by is, ‘This is not your great-grandmother’s Pirates of Penzance,’” he said. “A big fight scene happens that’s kind of an homage to The Who and ‘Quadrophenia.’ We have a sound cue: at the count of four or five, the lights all go out, and it’s just Roger Daltrey screaming at the apex of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ The lights just go black, that all happens, the lights come back up, and the fight’s over.”

“Penzance” is more of a comic opera that is best known for one specific song (“I am the very model of a modern major-general, / I’ve information vegetable, animal and mineral,” etc.), but Shakespeare OC hopes to show Southern California theatergoers how entertaining it is in its entirety. Because the 1879 opera is now in the public domain, the cast has had more freedom to reshape the material for today’s audiences.

“We’ve thrown in every gag we can,” Uribe said. “While we’re pretty faithful to the script, I encourage the actors the entire time, ‘Any time you see a space for a joke, improv a joke. If it makes me laugh three times in a row and it’s somewhat appropriate, it can stay in the show.’ It’s been kind of fun to work fast and loose with the script.”

The opera’s storyline follows Frederic, a 21-year-old who has just completed an apprenticeship aboard a pirate ship. However, as Frederic is preparing to be on his way (hopefully alongside the Major-General’s beautiful daughter Mabel), the Pirate King discovers a loophole: because Frederic was born on leap year, he won’t technically turn 21 for many more decades and has to rejoin their crew.

Alex Bodrero, who plays the Pirate King in Shakespeare OC’s production, said he’s enjoyed combining elements of serious opera with the comedy of “Penzance.”

“This is probably the most classical singing I’ve done in a long time, despite it being such a crazy, off-the-wall show,” he said. “It’s an interesting dichotomy. It’s got that legit thing while having fun like you’re on the playground in elementary school.”

For “Penzance,” Shakespeare OC decided to make the most of the expansive Garden Grove stage: instead of utilizing all 500 seats in the amphitheater, they will include audience seating right there in the midst of it.

“I don’t think people know what to expect when they’re going to come see this,” said Nikolai Fernandez, who plays Frederic in the production. “What’s exciting about that is you’re going to have audience members who are uncomfortable and look away when you’re trying to talk to them and invite them in, and you’re going to have audience members who want to, like, jump up and be a part of it when you give them that permission.”

In recent years, Shakespeare OC has been working to make classic theater productions more accessible to the local community. Earlier this season, a production of “Romeo and Juliet” staged its famous ball scene as a traditional Mexican quinceañera, and the Montagues delivered their lines in Korean. Uribe hopes “Penzance” will prove that musical theater also has a place in the OC.

“The stigma is that in LA, everything is better, but [Uribe] really brings a lot that you won’t find anywhere else to the theater,” Fernandez said, “and I think that’s a huge reason why I decided to commute down here two hours every day to be a part of it.”

‘The Pirates of Penzance’
12762 Main St., Garden Grove, Calif.
7:30 p.m. Thursday – Sunday through Sept. 26
Tickets are $20
For more information, visit www.shakespeareoc.org.

Food: Bibimbap, gamjatang and more

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This delicious dolsot bibimbap is found in Insa-dong. The stone pot is hot enough to cook a raw egg and make the rice at the bottom brown and crispy. Bibimbap is a force to be reckoned with. SCREAMfmLondon

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Very popular melon bingsu. The melon is hollowed out and filled with ice cream, pieces of cheesecake, shaved ice and condensed milk. It is served with a hefty knife you can use to slice the melon shell and eat it. SCREAMfmLondon

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Gamjatang is a spicy pork bone soup: this one is made with pork spine, vegetables and hot peppers. Very labor-intensive to remove the meat from the bones, but very rewarding. SCREAMfmLondon

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Found a new favorite barbeque restaurant specializing in perfect, thick cuts of pork. Tasty to eat with a sprinkle of salt, a drop of gochujang and some roasted garlic. SCREAMfmLondon

DMZ: Imjingak, Observatory and Unification Village

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Barbed wire fences lining the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone. SCREAMfmLondon

The Korean Demilitarized Zone is, in fact, the most heavily militarized border in the world. At the end of the Korean War, the DMZ was established to create a barrier (2.5 miles wide) between the Republic of Korea on the south side and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north.

Somehow, though, this area has become a kind of dark tourist attraction where you’ll spot carnival rides, fried food and smiling cartoons on the South Korean side, despite the fact that the countries are still — technically — at war. Just this August, there were two notable incidents at the DMZ: two South Korean soldiers were injured after stepping on landmines allegedly laid on the southern side of the DMZ, and at the end of the month, North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire in response to some disputed audio broadcasts that were being made via loudspeakers across the border.

Regardless, the DMZ remains a huge tourist attraction in South Korea. There are a number of places available for visits if you want to learn more about the relationship between the Koreas. Here is my guide to a few of these spots:

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The Korean DMZ. SCREAMfmLondon

Imjingak

Imjingak is a park located in the city of Paju, north of Seoul. It’s sometimes called Imjingak “resort,” and it’s a little disconcerting.

On one side of the village is a sizeable amusement park where people play on bumper cars and there is continuous pop music blasting from overhead. There are gift shops selling Korean souvenirs, and there are a wide variety of vendors selling delicious street food around every corner. There’s even a pretty thorough soybean museum detailing all the uses of the beans and offering samples. The whole feeling is like being at a state fair.

But the other side of the village is a stark contrast. Barbed wire fences surround the area where the Bridge of Freedom juts out into the distance. The bridge was formerly used by South Korean soldiers returning home from the North and is now decorated with brightly-colored ribbons that are memorials for lost family members or messages to those still living in North Korea. In front of the bridge is the Mangbaedan Alter, which was constructed so that people separated from their families or hometowns in the North could gather on traditional Korean holidays such as New Year’s Day and Chuseok.

Imjingak displays a very strange dichotomy: there are war memorials just outside the doors of a Tony Moly cosmetics store. It’s pretty somber until some laughing children run past you to get on the merry-go-round. But it’s also very hopeful. One of the most poignant spots at Imjingak is a wall of bricks, each representing a country that endured a civil war or other division but was eventually united again.

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South Korea on the left. North Korea on the right. SCREAMfmLondon

Mt. Ohdu Unification Observatory

The Unification Observatory is a five-story museum from which you can look out over the Han and Imjin Rivers and see North Korea up close.

From the roof, powerful binoculars allow you to see all the way from Seoul to Mount Kumgang in North Korea. As I was gazing out across the landscape, I watched a tiny figure riding a bike down a dirt road on the North Korean side. According to the employees at the observatory, most of the visible North Korean buildings are for propaganda purposes — meant to make the area just over the border look more prosperous than it is. I watched the little figure riding his bike for a long time, wondering who he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about all of the eyes peering at him through binoculars from the other side of the river.

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A depiction of a typical North Korean home. SCREAMfmLondon

Inside, the museum offers a variety of information on North Korea and the DMZ. There are a lot of interesting North Korean artifacts and maps to help illustrate important locations such as the military demarcation line. Two grim dioramas depict typical rooms in a North Korean elementary school and a home. In the classroom, you can walk inside and peruse the books taught in North Korean schools. In both rooms, the portraits of North Korea’s former supreme leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, keep watch over the comings and goings.

In one part of the museum, visitors can leave messages urging for the reunification of the Koreas, and a mock-up of the Berlin Wall crumbling down serves as inspiration.

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A soybean feast in Tongilchon. SCREAMfmLondon

Tongilchon Unification Village

Tongilchon is a very small agricultural village near the DMZ. There are few buildings in the area save for the market where you can pick up Korean souvenirs (again), ginseng, liquor and soybean products. The village is centered on farming, and those living within this area are exempt from paying taxes and from Korea’s mandatory military service.

Tongilchon is located so near the Civilian Control Line that entrance to the village is strictly guarded. Military officers boarded our bus and checked everyone’s identification before letting us continue.

In Tongilchon, we stopped into a fantastic little restaurant to feast upon everything soybean. I have never had tofu so delicious, but everything at the Tongilchon feast was perfect.

The town is a very peaceful spot, and it’s a unique place to stop while exploring the infamous DMZ and its surrounding areas.