I kind of feel like I should have made "while the rest of the world was seeing Star Wars" a branded series of sorts, because it's worked out to about one movie a week since the release of The Force Awakens that either has done much better than the mega-blockbuster in its home territory (Bajirao Mastani, Himalaya) or made some hay before it got there this weekend (Mojin, Devil and Angel). It is, if nothing else, a worthwhile reminder that other parts of the world have some pretty strong film industries which are at least making the attempt to establish a toehold in America.
In this case, it seems like Korean films have a way to go before making the same sort of progress as Chinese and Indian, and I think that the previews running before it - for three Chinese films (Ip Man 3, Monster Hunt, and Chinatown Detective) kind of illustrate why that is - Chinese film is released here enough to be a regular fixture, but I don't know when the next Koreanfilm to arrive in America will be. Supposedly The Tiger with Choi Min-sik came out in some non-Boston cities this week, but other than that the schedule looks pretty clear. It seems to me like these things have to be a regular fixture to reach some sort of tipping point - the big crowds for Chinese movies seemed to come when they were arriving in fairly predictable fashion every few weeks, with trailers to make it clear that this one was arriving soon. That's not happening with Korean films yet, and I don't know if it will.
The other thing contributing to an opening night show with about a half-dozen folks in the audience (along with the 6:50pm start time, which seems a bit early) is that, as I mention in the review, American audiences got to see Everest just a few months ago, and though it came out in South Korea at about the same time, Himalaya has the advantage of being homegrown there to give it a leg up, and unless you find its particular story especially compelling, I don't know that it's going to top the sheer "holy crap, just look at that" appeal that something Universal clearly made with Imax screens in mind. I don't even know what sort of footprint Imax has in Korea, although I did wonder on occasion while watching this whether it was shown in large-screen or 3D formats.
Still, here's to more Korean stuff reaching America. Some of the big names may have a hard time getting the day-and-date releases because it will seem worthwhile to try and get someone like Sony Classics or The Weinstein Company to push them beyond hardcore audiences, but there's enough good stuff being produced there that it would be cool to see it show up more often.
Himalaya (aka The Himalayas)
* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 January 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)
The biggest problem with Himalaya (titled "The Himalayas" for its North American release) is that it comes right on the heels of Everest. The latter is not a particularly great movie but had the resources of a major Hollywood studio behind it to create something that is at least visually astounding. This South Korean production gets maybe seventy-five percent of the way there on what is likely a fraction of the budget, but doesn't quite manage the emotional wallop that could allow it to surpass the American mega-production.
Its veteran mountaineer is Um Hong-gil (Hwang Jung-min), a well-respected expert already in 1992 when he mounts a rescue of two young countrymen - Park Moo-taek (Jung Woo) and Park Jung-bok (Kim In-kwon) - when their expedition's captain is killed in an avalanche. The first thing he tells Moo-taek when he wakes up from a coma two days later is to never climb again, and he recognizes the two when they try to join his expedition to Kangchenjunga in 1999. His wife (Yoo-sun) takes a shine to them, and soon Moo-taek is one of Hong-gil's most trusted partners. An injury forces him to retire from climbing in 2004 - at least until the expedition Moo-taek leads to Everest takes a bad turn.
Director Lee Suk-hoon is no stranger to grand adventure - his previous movie, The Pirates, was a fun swashbuckler that also got an American theatrical release and didn't look out of place next to other late-summer fare - and he and his team do fairly well when going for spectacle. The opening first-person sequence is exciting and the film is peppered with scenes depicting the awesome but frightening majesty of the Himalayas, impressively constructed from location shooting in Nepal, safer studio work, and pretty decent visual effects. There's an impressive urgency to how quickly folks work when a minor avalanche buries one alpinist, and a good balance of danger and grandeur.
Full review on EFC.