Monday, August 07, 2017

The Battleship Island

Every year I make a joke about having to ease out of Fantasia slowly as I spend the next weekend or week watching things that either played Fantasia or are the sort of thing that would have but just didn't play festivals this close to their release, but it's kind of nuts this year - it seems like there's both a Chinese and a Korean film opening every week during August, both because of opportunity (the American studios ease off late in the summer) and supply (China is locking Hollywood out right now, so there are more Chinese movies available for day-and-date releases, and given that Korean releases come a couple weeks to a month or so after being released in South Korea, we're getting their summer material now). I may do a split double feature tonight as part of that catch-up.

I must admit to being kind of surprised I got through it. My concession to getting older this year is taking the overnight bus home on Saturday rather than Sunday, which would have involved arriving in south station, taking the T to my apartment, showering, and then taking it to work; instead, I gave myself a day to recover. It felt really necessary during the afternoon, as I dragged during the ballgame and figured I'd turn in early, but some caffeine hit me around 6pm or so and I headed out for the 7:20pm show. Got through it pretty well, although I noticed that in my absence AMC Boston Common had moved some stuff around (tickets are now ripped upstairs, and it looks like they're trying out assigned seating for the Imax screen, though not the rest). Got through to the end, which was no guarantee.

Now, to see if I'm up for Wolf Warrior 2, despite that being down to only later shows...

Goonhamdo (The Battleship Island)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

The Battleship Island advertises itself as being based upon true events, and it's messy enough for me to buy that even if it's also got the sort of finale that seems a bit too good to be true. It's a fairly brutal war movie at times, especially when it gets elbow-deep in both torment and double-crosses, although it walks the line between being gratuitous and honest in its horror.

Japan's Nishima Island is shaped like a battleship, but it's got a coal mine where the engine would be, and during World War II, that mine was operated in part by conscripted Korean labor. The latest group being brought from the mainland is a motley one - famous gangster Choi Chil-sung (So Ji-sub), grad student Oh Jang-woo (Jang Sung-bum), escaped comfort woman Mal-nyon (Lee Jung-hyun), and a nine-piece band led by Lee Gang-ok (Hwang Jung-min) that includes his pre-teen daughter Sohee (Kim Soo-ahn). No escape attempt from the island has been successful, but that may change this time out - Allied Intelligence has learned that Korean Liberation Army leader Yoon Hak-chul (Lee Kyoung-young) is among the miners, and has sent OSS agent Park Moo-young (Song Joong-ki) in to extract him.

Writer/director Ryoo Seung-wan wastes no time in making Nishima a vision of hell in a sweaty black-and-white opening gambit that establishes that aside from grimy, sweaty conditions, the miners must deal with venting gases in shafts that have been dug underneath the sea floor, with cruel humiliations awaiting those who die trying to escape. It's not the kind of environment that calls out for subtle work, and Ryoo doesn't have a lot of nuance to give, which generally serves the film pretty well. Even considering that this was a historically bad place, combining the worst aspects of Dickensian labor and wartime atrocities, there are times when the movie seems to be pushing it: Manager Daisuke Shimazaki (Kim In-woo) looks like a cartoon villain even standing next to the more thuggish Yamada (Kim Joong-hee), and early scenes of Sohee being grouped in with the comfort women can sometimes feel like they get their tension from how far Ryoo is going to push things rather than how far the characters are going to go.

Full review on EFC.

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