Tag Archives: korea

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2016

‘The Invitation’
Release Date: April 8, 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard and Michiel Huisman
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films.

In “The Invitation,” Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) drive deep into the Hollywood Hills to attend a dinner party hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) at the house Will and Eden used to share. The party is the first time any of their friends have seen them in two years — Will and Eden divorced following the accidental death of their son, and Eden left to join a grief support group in Mexico, where she met David. Throughout the course of the evening, Will becomes increasingly disturbed being back in the house he once shared with a happy family that is no more, and he also begins to grow suspicious of Eden and David, who try to share with the group their new spiritual philosophies that have helped them overcome grief. I like how “The Invitation” slowly turns up the suspense and leaves the audience unsure if there is really something sinister behind Eden’s cultish white dress and David’s calm demeanor, or if it’s just Will suffering from a mental breakdown when confronted with his past. It’s sufficiently creepy and even a bit thoughtful. All-in-all, “The Invitation” is a pretty good thriller.

‘The Neon Demon’
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language.
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios, Broad Green Pictures, Scanbox Entertainment and The Jokers.

“The Neon Demon” is the most talked-about and most polarizing horror movie of the year. For the most part, I really liked it. Kind of a tired story: Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a young girl from a small town hoping to make it big as a model in Hollywood, but Hollywood is, unfortunately, full of Illuminati and lesbian necrophiliacs. It’s a higher budget version of 2014’s “Starry Eyes,” which is a much better film, plot-wise. But don’t come to “The Neon Demon” for the plot: come for the artistic visuals, evil female leads and the always excellent Jena Malone who steals the show as Jesse’s eerily too nice, there’s-gotta-be-something-wrong-with-her mentor Ruby. My main issue with “The Neon Demon” is the weird casting of Elle Fanning as the lead — she’s not charismatic enough to propel the movie on her own, and she’s cute, but the very embodiment of natural beauty? Eh. At least the costumes are fabulous.

‘Train to Busan’
Release Date: July 20, 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an and Jung Yu-mi
Genre: Action, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

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Photo courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

“Train to Busan” is one of the best zombie movies I’ve seen in a long while. The Korean horror film expertly showcases comedic moments, high tension, family drama, romance and truly frightening zombie shots. It’s an excellent movie and one of the best horror films of the year. The story follows Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), an absentee father whose focus on his business has crippled his relationship with his 9-year-old daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an). For her birthday, all Su-an wants is to be reunited with her estranged mother, so Seok-woo begrudgingly agrees to accompany her on the high-speed KTX ride from Seoul to Busan. Unfortunately, the train departs just as the country begins to deteriorate into a zombie apocalypse. Only Busan, the country’s southern port city, is safe, and the survivors must fight to get the train to its final destination. The intense zombie action scenes are top tier (my favorite is a stop in Daejeon where the passengers are faced with a horde of zombie soldiers in military uniform charging up the stairs), but where “Train to Busan” really got me is with its heart. The evolving father-daughter dynamic will suck you in, and the supporting characters are all so compelling. “Train to Busan” is not to be missed.

‘31’
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2016
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell and Meg Foster
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use.
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

As a diehard Rob Zombie fan, I enjoyed “31” and was pleased to find it more straightforward and accessible than Zombie’s last release, 2012’s “The Lords of Salem.” “31” follows a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween 1976 and told by three strangers that they will be entered into a game called 31. During the game, they will have 12 hours to escape from a maze-like warehouse of rooms while various clowns will be sent to torture and kill them. The plot isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, but Zombie’s characterizations are always the most entertaining. His villains are excellent, particularly Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder, an aristocrat in a powdered wig who oversees the proceedings and announces the carnies’ odds for survival over a loudspeaker, and Richard Brake as Doom-Head, the final and most effective obstacle in the gang’s way of survival. As always, Sheri Moon Zombie is a badass and a delight, and I love that she’s still the ultimate scream queen, wielding chainsaws in barely-there crop tops at 46.

My k-beauty picks: More of the best cushion compacts

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Cushion compacts from Clio, Moonshot, The Face Shop and Tony Moly. SCREAMfmLondon

It’s time for a sequel to my first list of the best Korean cushion compacts! I’m simply enamored with this beauty innovation, and I can’t imagine ever returning to clunky traditional foundations. Korean beauty brands release new formulas and new collaborations regularly, so I’m always experimenting with the next great products.

Here are four more of my favorite cushion compacts:

Clio Kill Cover Liquid Foundation Cushion

This Clio cushion is absolutely amazing if you’re looking for a super full-coverage foundation. The Kill Cover cushion has an incredibly high-coverage formula for such a lightweight compact, and it’s great to work with if you want a really long-lasting, flawless makeup look. This is my go-to cushion for fancy nights on the town because it’s smoothing, moisturizing and brightening, and it really doesn’t require any touchups. Definitely recommended if you like full coverage foundations. You’ll be impressed with Clio’s Kill Cover compact.

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Tony Moly’s Pikachu Mini Cover Cushion. SCREAMfmLondon

Tony Moly Pikachu Mini Cover Cushion

Pikachu is having a big moment in Korea right now, so you’ll find various Pokémon in all the shops, on all the fashion and in all the beauty products. As I am very easily swayed by adorable packaging, I had to pick up the Pikachu Mini Cover Cushion from Tony Moly’s latest beauty collaboration with Pokémon. The line includes all kinds of Pokémon products, from face masks and cleansers to nail polishes and lip tints. This cushion is smaller than your average compact, so it’s great for on-the-go spot treatment. Although it’s cute, the formula is actually quite decent, and it provides good coverage. But I’m mostly in love with the detailed packaging, including the Poké Ball-shaped applicator sponge.

The Face Shop Oil Control Water Cushion

Speaking of adorable packaging, The Face Shop is also stocking some super cute character compacts at the moment. They have a Disney collaboration featuring a Monsters, Inc. cushion and a Mickey Mouse one, but I’m much more drawn to the darling Kakao Friends collaborations. The Kakao Friends are various characters used as emoticons on the Korean messaging app KakaoTalk. My favorites are Frodo, the dog, and Ryan, the bear. So, I had no choice but to buy this cushion compact featuring one of the best Ryan illustrations (he’s cheering for you amidst a backdrop of confetti!). It’s a light-coverage formula, so it’s best for daytime wear. This particular cushion is designed for oil control and boasts sebum-minimizing powers. But, let’s be real: I bought it for the packaging, and I’d do it again.

Moonshot's Microfit Cushion. SCREAMfmLondon

Moonshot’s Microfit Cushion. SCREAMfmLondon

Moonshot Microfit Cushion

I briefly touched on this cushion in my review of the moonshot x BIGBANG10 LUCKYBOX. Moonshot is the beauty brand owned by YG Entertainment, Big Bang’s record label, so all of the products are endorsed and modeled by YG artists like G-Dragon and Blackpink. I just dream of having skin as luminous as GD’s, so I am very drawn to this product. I really love the formula, the semi-matte finish and brightness of the Microfit Cushion. My only complaints are with the design: the applicator sponge broke really quickly, and the sponge inside that holds the product has gotten weirdly off-centered. While I’m disappointed with the durability of the compact, I’m still really into the product and will continue to use it.

Book review: ‘Nothing to Envy | Ordinary Lives in North Korea’

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Photo courtesy of Spiegel & Grau

Mi-ran and Jun-sang had known each other for 13 years and dated for nine. After three years, they began to cautiously hold hands under the cover of darkness once they’d walked a safe enough distance out of town. After six years, Jun-sang mustered up the courage to give Mi-ran an awkward kiss on the cheek, which she quickly rebuffed out of fear and shock.

When Mi-ran escaped with her family to South Korea, she couldn’t risk saying goodbye to Jun-sang. When he showed up one morning to find her family missing, he realized he’d been too late — too late to share with her the capitalist books he’d secretly been reading at university, the South Korean television signals he could faintly pick up at home and his hidden dream of running away with her to Seoul. She was already gone.

The two young lovers are the heart of Barbara Demick’s book, ‘Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,’ which profiles six North Korean defectors hailing from an industrial town in the northeastern part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

‘Nothing to Envy’ is an enthralling read — a kind of novelization that follows its subjects through a fifteen-year period. From the death of Kim Il-sung to the horrific famine of the 1990s, ‘Nothing to Envy’ shows North Korea from the perspective of average citizens, far away from the carefully-constructed capital city Pyongyang and the state’s propaganda-filled press releases.

The book provides a quick but excellent background on how North Korea came to be what it is today. One of the book’s most memorable stories is the biography of Mi-ran’s father, which serves to explain her family’s low social status and “tainted blood.” A once popular and confident young man from a Southern farming area, Tae-woo was taken as a prisoner of war by the North and essentially trapped on the opposite side of the peninsula when a power struggle between the United States and Soviet Union resulted in the drawing of an arbitrary border across the map along the 38th parallel.

“Koreans were infuriated to be partitioned in the same way as the Germans. After all, they had not been aggressors in World War II, but victims. Koreans at the time described themselves with a self-deprecating expression, saying they were ‘shrimp among whales,’ crushed between the rivalries of the superpowers,” Demick writes.

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South Korea on the left and North Korea on the right, as seen from the Korean Demilitarized Zone. SCREAMfmLondon

‘Nothing to Envy’ follows its subjects as Kim Il-sung takes control of the DPRK with promises of an idyllic Communist state and, for the first few years, delivers on them. Then, readers see these people struggle to keep the faith after Kim Jong-il rises to power and the country’s economic crisis begins, resulting in the famine that ultimately killed around 3.5 million North Koreans.

Eventually, each of the subjects experiences a life-altering moment of final disillusionment which leads them to leave their country and, often, many loved ones, established careers and educations behind. For Jun-sang, the epiphany finally came when he was able to configure his television to pick up South Korean signals that told him news of the world and, for the first time, honest coverage of North Korea.

“Listening to South Korean television was like looking in the mirror for the first time in your life and realizing you were unattractive,” Demick writes. “North Koreans were always told theirs was the proudest country in the world, but the rest of the world considered it a pathetic, bankrupt regime.”

However, the defectors’ difficulties don’t end once they reach Seoul. The initial euphoria they experience often is short-lived, as they have to struggle to acclimate to modern society and start their lives over from scratch. Work experience and university degrees from the DPRK are useless, so the North Korean doctors and intellectuals we’ve gotten to know over the course of the book find themselves taking jobs as nannies and fast food delivery drivers.

‘Nothing to Envy’ concludes with an epilogue bringing the reader up-to-date with North Korea, briefly examining the first years of Kim Jong-un’s reign as Supreme Leader.

It’s an amazingly moving book, and it paints such a vivid picture of life inside North Korea for the past few decades. Not only is ‘Nothing to Envy’ a good primer on the Korean War and the politics surrounding it, but the personal stories within are so poignant they will stay with you long after reading.

The book’s conclusion is realistic and, therefore, inconclusive. The totalitarian regime in North Korea has already endured longer than anyone expected and continues to this day. Although many North Koreans manage to escape, so many are still living lives not unlike those depicted in the book — some are better off and some worse. And their stories are going untold.

‘Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea’
Barbara Demick
Release Date: Sept. 21, 2010
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Politics
Pages: 336
Grade: A

Click here to read about my visit to the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone.

Scenes from Busan: Jagalchi Fish Market and more

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Busan’s famous Gamcheon Culture Village. Houses built on windy roadways on the foothills of a coastal mountain make this spot a must-see for tourists to South Korea’s second-largest city. The alleys are uniquely decorated with murals, sculptures and vibrant colors. SCREAMfmLondon

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Jagalchi is Korea’s largest seafood market. Vendors sell all types of fresh seafood throughout the market’s meandering corridors. SCREAMfmLondon

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Vendors at Jagalchi Market offer everything from live turtles and eels to dried fish and seaweed. SCREAMfmLondon

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Small restaurants found inside Jagalchi Market serve freshly-prepared fish dishes. SCREAMfmLondon

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Busan Gamcheon Culture Village at dusk. SCREAMfmLondon

RPDR’s Kim Chi slays Seoul debut at SKRT in Itaewon

“One day, I would love to be able to perform in South Korea and actually have people come out to see me.”

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Kim Chi performs at SKRT in Itaewon, Seoul on Sept. 24. SCREAMfmLondon

About an hour before doors opened at the Itaewon nightclub SKRT for Mad Bambi’s third drag ball in Seoul, the line already stretched down the block and around the corner. By 11 p.m., the line had grown beyond the fire station at the nearby intersection, down the street and out of sight. Forty-five minutes after the doors opened, tickets were sold out.

Seoulites walking past would stop and stare at the huge crowd. “What is the line for?” they would ask.

“We’re waiting for Kim Chi,” we’d respond. They would continue to stare.

“All these people are waiting in line for some kimchi?”

“No, this person on the poster is Kim Chi, a man who dresses as a woman.”

“…That’s a man?”

The attraction of the evening was, of course, Kim Chi — an anime-inspired, conceptual drag queen and runner-up on season eight of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Born in the USA but raised in South Korea, Kim Chi has a special place in the hearts of Korean fans who turned up en masse to support her debut on the Seoul drag scene.

I’ve never been to such a crowded drag show. I missed half the voguing waiting in line out front, and strained to see over the crowd during the opening performances of local queens Nikki Ashes, Charlotte Goodenough and Cha Cha.

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Kim Chi performs for fans at SKRT in Itaewon, Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

Finally, Kim Chi arrived onstage to the Dixie Chicks’ “Sin Wagon,” twirling her red skirt and tipping a wide-brimmed hat. Kim is a queen known for her incredible looks and makeup talent, so it was a thrill to see her work up close as we all sweated and danced together to the DJ’s tunes that ranged from Lady Gaga and Beyoncé to their K-pop equivalents HyunA and CL.

Kim Chi spoke to the audience in both English and Korean, expressing her joy and gratitude for the warm reception. During her set, Kim performed English and Korean lipsyncs, as well as her RPDR trademark song, “Fat, Fem & Asian,” which is a tongue-in-cheek response to the marginalization of anyone fat, femme or Asian in the gay community.

It was very exciting to see Kim Chi’s triumphant return to Seoul after her rise to stardom on RPDR. It was exciting to see such an excellent turnout despite South Korea’s less-than-accepting stance on homosexuality.

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Seoul’s gay pride parade this June. SCREAMfmLondon

At the annual gay pride parade in Seoul every summer, religious protesters surround the event, preach over loudspeakers and occasionally try to put a stop to the Pride events. In previous years, Christian groups have laid down in the street to stop the parade and, last year, attempted to prevent the event from even receiving its permits from the city.

But the Korean LGBT community carries on, with role models like Kim Chi paving the way. Her drag is captivating and cutting-edge, and she never shies away from her Korean heritage. On “Drag Race,” Kim Chi stood out from previous Asian contestants for not simply joking about racial stereotypes but instead embracing her Korean roots and using that connection to her full advantage. One standout moment came when Kim appeared on the main stage in a beautiful traditional hanbok as a tribute to her mother.

Kim Chi’s sold-out performance at SKRT is hopefully a sign of more good things to come.

Film review: The Handmaiden (Agassi)

Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee star in “The Handmaiden.” Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

It’s always been interesting to me how deeply twisted and delightfully macabre Korean cinema can be — in sharp contrast to the conservative cuteness in popular television dramas. And no one has mastered the perverse and gory in this genre like director Park Chan-wook, who brought the world “Oldboy,” “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and, most recently, “The Handmaiden.”

His latest creation takes place in 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation of the country. Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is a beautiful but frail heiress living on an expansive estate with her tyrannical, book-collecting uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). When she hires Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) to be her new maid, she has no idea that the woman is secretly a double agent, raised from childhood as a pickpocket and chosen by a conman (Ha Jung-woo) to help him seduce the heiress and steal her fortune.

Although it runs for nearly two and a half hours, “The Handmaiden” never seems to drag and each scene keeps the audience anticipating more. The first half of the film moves along at a pleasant pace as Sook-hee and Hideko begin to get to know each other. The building sexual tension between the two women is masterfully executed, and Tae-ri is particularly charismatic in her role as the endearing criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold.

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Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

When the film finally reaches its peak of excitement, it never relents. There are nonstop twists that constantly change the audience’s perception of the characters’ alliances, as well as flashbacks and revelations that reveal deeper levels to every element of the story. It’s a thrill to watch and try to keep pace with the film’s progression.

And when it gets grisly (because of course it has to), it does not disappoint. The climactic conclusion is absolutely satisfying and every bit as fucked up as is expected of Park Chan-wook.

“The Handmaiden” is also filmed beautifully — each scene is a pleasure to observe. The scenery is complemented with skillful framing and camera angles that complete the film’s artistic aesthetic. “The Handmaiden” is a great thriller and pleasing to the eye as well.

I love the kind-of feminist focus on the powers of the two female heroines, as well as the unique love story that develops between them. My only real complaint about the film is that the lesbian romance is so completely shot for the male gaze it’s a bit cringe-worthy in parts. The entirety of “The Handmaiden” is pretty kinky, and it’s clear a straight male director was behind the helm.

But, hey, no one could claim this film is not aesthetically exceptional, and the story is quite an exhilarating ride. I highly recommend “The Handmaiden.”

‘The Handmaiden’
Release Date: June 1, 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo and Kim Tae-ri
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Food: Japchae, anchovies and more Korean school lunch

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Clockwise from top left: radish kimchi, japchae, dressed lettuce, squid soup, and black rice (heukmi bap). SCREAMfmLondon

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Clockwise from top left: stir-fried anchovies, potato croquettes, napa cabbage kimchi, beef and seaweed soup, and rice mixed with carrots, bean sprouts and soy sauce. SCREAMfmLondon

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Clockwise from top left: sesame radish namul, pork with vegetables, young radish kimchi, miso seaweed soup, and rice. SCREAMfmLondon

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Clockwise from top left: napa cabbage kimchi, stir-fried squid with pork and vegetables, salted seaweed, potato and onion soup, and rice. SCREAMfmLondon