Sunday, February 09, 2014

Byeon-ho-in (The Attorney)

When The Attorney popped up on Google's film times page for 7 February earlier this week, and I saw it was only playing at Showcase Cinemas in Revere, I groaned a bit. I want to support this sort of movie getting play in the Boston area, and making a detour to Revere during something like the Sci-Fi Film Festival (because the best way to support them is with money) is even more inconvenient than usual. But I also made jokes - was there some sort of big Korean community out in Revere I didn't know about? How was it there was a screen for a niche film like this out there but not one in Boston/Cambridge proper?

End result: I get there, and there's about 20 people in the auditorium. Not a packed house by any means, but I've got to admit: It's more than I frequently see for Chinese movies at Boston Common, even though that place abuts Chinatown and they sometimes get things day-and-date with China. And, who knows, maybe that's a pretty good showing for that theater on Saturday morning; I wasn't exactly tripping over folks looking to get to The Lego Movie.

The lesson, as always, is that though I occasionally like to talk about starting a cinema or screening series that will play all these under-appreciated genre films, my instincts for what will do well or not tend to be terrible. It would be fun for a couple of months, and then I'd go broke.

Anyway, about the movie itself: I liked it. It's nothing you can't get in similar American movies aside from the details, but I find the details of 1970s/1980s Korea fairly interesting and still relevant today: It's a different flavor of capitalism under an authoritarian government than China, but still worth examining, and there's a little irony in the characters wishing for "American democracy" in the midst of a trial where overwhelming fear about national security is leading to people being denied due process.

I did have one little complaint about the end (not really a big deal, as this isn't exactly a suspense-based movie, but...): SPOILERS! I must admit, Song Woo-seok being arrested during a 1987 demonstration only to have the majority of Busan's attorneys stand in support at his trial seemed like a strange coda: It wasn't directly connected to the rest of the story, and I must admit that as an American, I wasn't quite sure what this bit of legal procedure was supposed to accomplish. Eventually, I figured out that this was a pretty strong demonstration that after having been constantly mocked by the legal establishment, this was a pretty strong indication that he had gained their respect. I'm still not sure if their respect was ever his goal, or primary enough that it should be what the movie leaves the audience with, but it makes a bit more sense in retrospect. !SRELIOPS

At any rate, like I said earlier: The Attorney is a pretty good movie, and it's worth supporting with money. This film's distributor, Well Go USA, picks up the rights to a lot of Korean, Chinese, and occasionally Japanese cinema and does a better than average job of actually getting them in American theaters, but those often don't include Boston. I figure that supporting this one with money can't hurt the next time something like The Thieves or The Suspect comes out. Heck, maybe local theaters will even book Special ID with Boston-raised Donnie Yen in a month or so!

Byeon-ho-in (The Attorney)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 February 2014 in the Showcase Cinemas de Lux Revere (first-run, DCP)

The Attorney made its way to the United States rather quickly after its box-office success in South Korea, taking just a month and a half to cross the Pacific. It isn't hard to see why it did so well there; it's a crowd-pleaser that hits a bingo between being an underdog tale, an examination of the country's years as a dictatorship, and a star vehicle for Song Kang-ho.

He plays Song Woo-seok, a self-educated Busan attorney who made it big in the late 1970s by specializing in real estate and tax law, areas generally not covered by respectable lawyers. His life takes a turn when Park Jin-woo (Siwan), the son of Choi Soon-ae (Kim Young-ae), the owner of the stew shop where Song has been getting who has been cooking his lunch for years, is arrested on a trumped-up National Security charge, and all the other lawyers are content to just negotiate the length of the sentence.

There's a certain amount of excess bulk to The Attorney; a good chunk of the start of the movie is not only spent on Song Woo-seok establishing his practice, but flashing back even earlier to when he was a young laborer who could barely afford books, much less a college education. Later on Cha Dong-young (Kwak Do-won), the officer responsible for Jin-woo's arrest and torture, is given the sort of introduction that suggests a parallel story rather than what amounts to the villain role. It's not exactly wasted time - Cha does need some build-up and Song Woo-seok's unorthodox approach to making a living as an attorney figures heavily in how he attacks the movie's main case - but it does leave the build-up to the trial and that main event a little compacted as a result, with a final flash forward pinching it from the other end.

Full review at EFC

No comments: