Lady Vengeance

The red eyeshadow is a stain on her white makeup. It represents the sins she committed, and it marks her as a sinner. She wants to repent, and she does so the only way she knows how: cold brutal revenge against brutal and heartless violence. Lee Geum-ja was only a teenager when she was blackmailed into helping a murderer kidnap and kill a child. She was made to suffer years in prison while the perpetrator continued his wrath, only for her to be filled with cold vengeance.

The first half of the film is confusing at first, moving between two different settings; the prison and outside of it. The prison is the past, the exposition. Outside of it is the present, the beginning of vengeance. The switching between these different settings can cause disorientation for a first viewing experience and can minimise appreciation for the film’s direction. The greatness is there, it just needs multiple viewings for better understanding its theme.

Lady Vengeance is bleak and dreary. As much as the film is bleak in its narrative, it’s equally as colorful in its editing. Each scene, with its harmonious score, encapsulate a a few of the aspects many would notice in an arthouse film. The scene with Geum-ja portrayed as an angel is just one of them. The first half of the film follows this arthouse-esque direction with many of its sequences.

The film’s morals follow the same path, as revenge is often no black-and-white matter. Geum-ja is aware of this, and she realises that her sins will only grow. However, her only way of feeling justice is through revenge, revenge she believes is justified. There’s a lot of dark and comical humor to accompany Geum-ja’s “redemption” journey, especially during the prison scenes. The cast elevate these tones perfectly, delivering quirky and raw performances. Lee Young-ae is also outstanding with her role as Geum-ja, and she brings life to a character who feels nothing but rage and grief.

The latter half of the film is where the direction changes from exposition and incoherent sequences to a more direct and straightforward approach. It’s raw, and it provides a deeper meaning to the essence of revenge and what it means for the characters who commit to it. The victim’s families are victims themselves, forced to endure the pain that comes with loss. Revenge releases some of that weight, possibly giving closure to the families and closure to Geum-ja as well. At the end of the day though, they are back to living in their own realities.

At the end of Lady Vengeance, Geum-ja sees a grown-up version of the boy she helped kill. The boy leaves her with a straight face. Vengeance is ambiguous.

Right before the film closes, there is a shimmering glimpse of hope with Geum-ja’s daughter being white. White is a symbol of purity and the tofu is completely that. She stuffs her face in it. The ground she is standing on is filled with snow, and even more is raining down on her.

Lady Vengeance is, at its core, an exceptional film about vengeance and grief, and the ability to find closure from it.

Grade: B

 

 

Parasite is an instant classic

SPOILERS BELOW


Parasite is a dark comedy/thriller about the disparity between socio-economic classes and the lack of care given to the lower levels of society as they are not met with any opportunities to integrate into the more privileged classes. It is Bong Joon Ho’s most recent feature, and considering his impressive repertoire, it is natural to come into this with high expectations. However, this film proceeds to blow all those expectations out of the water. Bong knows exactly what he wants out of this film, and he communicates its message perfectly. The actors also play a key role in giving it an intricate layer of depth as they deliver phenomenal performances with their characters. This coupled with beautiful cinematography, smooth editing, and perfect music choice creates a mesmerising story that can speak to every individual.

The film introduces the poor Kim family and their attempts at integrating into society through working for the wealthy Park family. This unfortunately backfires as they are not able to get rid of the smell of poverty. This is established when Mr. Park and his wife try to sleep and he notices a distinct odor that reeks of the poor. Not being able to get rid of their smell signifies that the Kims are not able to rise above their unfortunate circumstances. The daughter of the Kim family admits defeat by sitting on a toilet smoking a cigarette in a room in her house while her home is being flooded. The son admits defeat by letting go of the rock sculpture that his friend (who offered him the job to work for the Park family) generously gave him. The rock sculpture represented wealth and fortune, but after he ironically gets beaten over the head with that metaphorical rock during the climax, he realises that his dream of being rich was only a dream. Last but not leat, the father, in the end, admits defeat when he traps himself in the basement of the Park family’s home.

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Parasite isn’t just tragic however, it is suspenseful. Bong knows how to deliver suspense, and the suspense he delivers is exceptional. During the second half of the film, the Kim family is caught by the former workers of the Park family. At that point, all sense of comedy that initially surrounded the film is replaced with a tense dread that only grows bigger. It’s a dread that never lets up until the violent climax.

The moments where the film does get humorous though makes for some pretty memorable scenes, most apparent with the Jessica Jingle.

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The evocative story is only even further enhanced through actors that perfectly play their characters. The Park family is made to be the victims as they have not done anything as malicious as the Kim family, yet their apparent disregard for people in the lower classes shows them as naive and not necessarily likable. The Kim family is a clever group of characters that may have done some pretty bad things, but they were entertaining nonetheless. It is clear that through the son and the daughter that the poor are fully capable of living in the upper levels of society. It is the lack of opportunities that keep them where they are at, which limits potential talent from fully sprouting. I could not personally bring myself to dislike the Kim family despite how manipulative they were. Their downfall had the effect of bringing my heart down and making me feel bad for them; their plan had failed. But it’s interesting because I wasn’t exactly rooting for them either. In the back of my mind, I was hoping they would be able to live happily, but thinking more realistically, they would not have been able to bring themselves up from the hole they dug themselves into. In the end, every single character was a parasite, each group latching onto each other like how a parasite latches onto its host until death.

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Bong Joon Ho gives the world a blunt commentary on the circumstances surrounding the privileged and the poverty-stricken. Watching something like Parasite is a once in a lifetime experience. It is a deeply moving film that latches onto the audience’s attention and never lets go. All the audience can do is watch as the events unfold and conclude. It’s a depressing but realistic take on an issue that continues to pervade not just in South Korea but in the entire world; a seemingly simple idea that is executed beautifully. Parasite is just that good.

Grade: A+

DUN DUN is an improvement over Everglow’s previous titles

Everglow continues to follow the prevalent girl-crush concept that remains popular in Korea. Their comeback titled DUN DUN is no exception, following the same theme as their previous title tracks, Bon Bon Chocolat and Adios. However, there’s a major difference between this newest release and their previous outputs: it flows much, much better.

The chorus is explosive and aggressive; it’s the same kind of sound that the group is known for, except for the fact that the choruses feel more fun and less repetitive, with the repetitiveness being a criticism I have for their previous title tracks. The verses are also equally as enticing, especially when the rappers of the group take center stage and deliver the fierce energy that the group is all about.

DUN DUN ultimately does feel derivative, but I cannot deny how fun it is to listen to. I’m personally still loving the song even after looping it for quite some time. The group is still riding off the tail end of their previous releases, and it makes sense considering how successful those songs were for them. That being said, they take it up a notch and deliver a banger in the same vein that is executed more efficiently. Everglow is evolving their fierce energy, and I can’t wait for what they come up with next. They crushed this comeback.

Grade: B

 

Get your Wish – Sincere, melodic electropop

Porter Robinson begins the new decade with his upcoming album by the name of nurture, which appears to be a much more personal endeavor than Worlds. We get a glimpse of this with his newly released single Get your Wish, a sincerely written and beautifully produced electro/synth-pop track.

The song’s lyrics explain the ability to find reason in your life and continuing to live on with that in mind. This coupled with the dreamy production is exactly the style that we know Porter Robinson by. This is further established through the artificial vocals, repetitive percussion, and the explosive and atmospheric chorus.

so tell me how it felt when you walked on water?

did you get your wish?

The direction for Porter’s new music is much more introspective and personal, and if it contains the charm that we all love him for while also containing its own unique freshness and concept, then I’m all for it.

Get your Wish is heavenly. It’s magical. It’s Porter.

Grade: A

 

My favorite KPOP of 2019

LP (Red Velvet) 

Sayonara (Red Velvet) 

Psycho (Red Velvet)

In & Out (Red Velvet)

Umpah Umpah (Red Velvet)

Butterfly (LOONA)

365 (LOONA)

Boy With Luv (BTS)

NEON (Yukika)

Gotta Go (Chung Ha)

Snapping (Chung Ha)

& New (Eyedi)

Senorita ((G)I-DLE)

CHERRY (Itzy)

Dumb Litty (Kard)

Highway to Heaven + English Version (NCT 127)

BIM BAM BUM (Rocket Punch)

Goblin / On The Moon / Dorothy (SULLI)

Feel Special (TWICE)

Breakthrough (TWICE)

Fake & True (TWICE)

 

Psycho – Another R&B Behemoth by Red Velvet

Beginning with a twisty Zimzalabim, following up with a summertime Umpah Umpah, and finishing off with an explosive R&B banger that is Psycho, Red Velvet have fittingly concluded their ReVe Festival concept with style.

Psycho‘s chorus is one of the catchiest and melodious I’ve ever heard from RV. The members once again show their ability to harmonize perfectly, and the production sets everything into motion. The trap beat is filled with explosive percussion, stylish synths, and the elegant plucking of chords, providing a perfect backdrop for RV’s vocals to shine. The music video is extremely polished and highlights the sophisticated nature of the song. The cinematography and editing here are insane, and there’s a lot of classy shots to unpack. Psycho has a pretty simple and clear-cut theme that is maximized to its potential. It’s classy yet explosive. Elegant but tinted with feral-like qualities. It’s definitely psycho.

Grade: A+

Feel Special – Establishing TWICE’s maturity

After letting TWICE’s recent album sink in for a couple days, I feel obligated to write something about this major highlight of their career. Showing improvement with Fancy You this year, TWICE have been ramping up and evolving their sound throughout 2019 with Fancy, Breakthrough, and now their latest lead single, Feel Special. To be honest, Fancy You felt more like demos hinting at their change and Feel Special solidifies it.

You make me feel special
No matter how the world brings me down
Even when hurtful words stab me
I smile again ’cause you’re there
That’s what you do
Again I feel special
One moment I feel like I’m nothing at all
Like no one would notice if I were gone
But then when I hear you calling me
I feel loved, I feel so special

What makes the lead single one of my favorite TWICE songs is the content of the lyrics. It is written from a place of sincerity and warmth, showing a more intimate side of the relationship between the members. Despite the hardships TWICE has faced, they’re still without a doubt one of the most famous KPOP groups and it wouldn’t feel the same without their chemistry with each other. This is emphasised with production that is groovy throughout, with an explosive chorus that is accompanied by pleasant vocals. Unfortunately, I still have a gripe with this song, and I find this in many TWICE records. There is an awkward transition into a rap verse that does not flow well with the feel of the song at all. Fortunately, the other tracks that feature rapping have smoother introductions into their rap verses. Regardless, without the heartfelt lyrics, this single wouldn’t have felt as organic as it was.

Speaking of the other tracks, all of them are bops. Yeah, nothing else to say other than that. The production in this, especially with songs like LOVE FOOLISH and TRICK IT, is gorgeous. There is also GET LOUD that sounds like a bold anthem and I love it. Beautiful melodies synergising with amazing vocals make this album a pleasant listen throughout. The only track that still has yet to grow on me is the closing ballad – 21:29. Ballads for me are usually a no-go so it’s a preference thing, but groups such as Red Velvet and LOONA are able to produce ballads that are equally delicate and passionate. 21:29, I feel, doesn’t seem like that. It’s a nice song definitely, but only really when I’m in a certain mood. Oh well.

Feel Special is certainly a delight. It will go down as a classic in TWICE’s discography and maybe even as a classic within KPOP overall. Regardless of how you feel, Feel Special feels special.

Grade: B+

The Genius Behind “What is Love”

I’m not entirely sold on TWICE’s music with the exception of their recent tracks – like the punchy Breakthrough – and their latest mini-album Fancy that establishes their growth as artists. However, What is Love? is one of the few TWICE songs that have resonated with me due to its sheer simplicity and perfect execution. It is presented as an infectious tune with catchy choruses, cute vocals, and upbeat production. This makes up a majority of the Korean Girl Group’s music, but what sets the aforementioned song apart from the rest of their discography is the way the music video enhances the subject TWICE is speaking on – Love.

How it could be as sweet as candy

How it’s like flying in the sky

What exactly is love? What does it feel like? These questions get answered through the music video’s implementation of movies. The members of the group sit in front of a TV as they binge-watch various films that make them feel giddy inside. From “La La Land” to “Romeo & Juliet”, each person imagines herself in a movie that has its own interpretation of love. Their only way of grasping the idea of romance is through watching instead of experiencing, and the lyrics enforce the idea of them being childishly naive but also excited to try it out. Each member has their own movie based on their perspective on love which ties to the desired message – love can mean anything. Regardless of whether you agree, the music video is too cute to pass up.

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I absolutely adore the way they handled such a beloved and universal concept by turning it from a seemingly simple subject to a theme filled with underlying depth. Love can mean a lot of things and both the song and MV communicate that perfectly. Not only is What is Love? thematically rich, but it’s also an enjoyable listen.

Grade: A

What does it mean to be an Adult?

Chihiro and her family are moving into a new place, and Chihiro does not want any of it, as shown when she sticks her tongue out towards the new town in the very first scene. She is a young girl with no experience in work or responsibility. Up until her journey towards the spirit world, she is shown to be a spoiled and ungrateful child. It is through that spirit world that she learns, and understands, what it means to be an adult and what it means to grow up. Hayao Miyazaki’s artistic vision once again manifests itself into a film that is not only a feast for the eyes but also describes adulthood and its accompanying society in a meaningful way that can appeal to both children and adults.

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Setting up the story with an endearing score and breathtaking animation, Miyazaki’s penchant for worldbuilding has marked its place into the old, seemingly-abandoned amusement park. Chihiro is bewildered at the sight of it; the windy breeze that grazes her and her parents’ clothes and the grassy area itself creates a setting that the viewer can be immersed in. Both her parents seem to have taken a fondness for the place, and find that it holds an abundance of delicious food. What unfolds next is the never-ending cycle of never seeming to have enough, with Chihiro’s parents relentlessly consuming the food until they turn to pigs, even after their hunger has been satiated; the associated symbol for gluttony, and what inevitably begins Chihiro’s journey into saving her parents while also learning what it means to be an adult.

Chihiro ends up staying in the spirit world for a time, serving at a bathhouse owned by Yubaba so that she can return home with her parents. This is where the plethora of characters are introduced, all of which have their own quirky personality and distinct appearance. While some take more screen time than others, each and every one of them still contributes to the film’s themes and messages of being an adult. The individuals that leave significant points of interest though, are Yubaba, No-Face, and Lin.

Yubaba is a hypocrite. She tries to hide her baby from the outside world and attempts to shelter him from corrupt forces when she does the exact same thing. The pursuit of money is a recurring trait in her character, as she represents the greed of a businesswoman. No-Face, on the other hand, represents loneliness, as he continues to walk around and wander through the world until he finds Chihiro. He takes an odd fascination towards her that borders on “creepiness”, but in its own quirky way. Because he lacks any experience with any sort of friendship, he awkwardly stumbles in trying to persuade Chihiro to “be with him”, or befriend him, giving her vast amounts of gold. Relying on materialistic value of course leads to nowhere, as Chihiro, at this point already “grown-up”, does not want any of it; ironically enough, the adult workers in the bathhouse do not seem to have learned the way she has, and get greedy with the amount of money that is being handed out. No-Face eventually lives with Yubaba’s twin sister, and finally feels a sense of belonging; the warmth of having a family. Last but not least concerns Lin. In one scene, she remarks on getting away from her work, trying to leave and find something she wants to do. Her prior circumstances are not known, but her life follows the carefree life of a person who has no real goal in mind; nothing feels more empty than having a career that you have no particular interest in, and being an adult at this point closes a lot of doors on wasted opportunities.

A major aspect to take note is that Chihiro seems to be the only “young” person in the spirit world. This helps her presence remain significant in her own coming-of-age story through a world filled with adults (i.e spirits; the spirit world might as well be the adult world). To save her friend, Haku, she takes a train ride to Yubaba’s twin sister, where the ride is filled with meaningful imagery. Each spirit that is blacked out and painted as a black shadowy mist is effectively shown to be a worker that works and goes home, along with the cycle of that loneliness. Japan’s controversial topics regarding extensive labor in the workforce is depicted in Spirited Away, as its strictly disciplined society forces an individual to find a passion or interest or else he/she will inevitably end up in the void of being a failed human being, sitting beside desks inside offices, filling out paperwork without rest, and most of all, losing purpose.

As per Miyazaki’s motif, painting each frame with detail is a repeated thing that is nice to see. There is always something little happening, as the camera focuses on each minuscule character expression. The animation is crisp and is shown to have aged well. Now, with recent popular anime movies filled with smooth and sterile animation that unfortunately lacks the depth of older “classics”, Spirited Away remains consistent in its tone and seeks to deliver a universal message directed towards the heart of the viewer in its own playful, yet mellow, way. Not to mention the subtle commentary concerning the health of the environment and the negative influences of the Western world, with Haku being a river spirit that forgets his “name and identity” because of industrialisation.

By the end of the film though, Chihiro evolves into a capable person that now has an idea of what the working world is like. The foundation of being an adult has been laid out for her, and she takes the right steps, away from greed and consumption. She forges her own identity and is now confident in taking more leaps towards the future. So, what does that mean for you?