Sunday, October 30, 2011

The next Korean movie night movie is MOSS definitely worth checking out!

I’m not sure if this Monday’s (moved from the usual Tuesday slot to coincide with Halloween!) screening of Korean film, Moss, is considered part of the Korean Cultural Service’s Hidden Gems series, or if it is a one off special in honor of the haunted holiday. It certainly fits the description of the former – a hit movie in its native Korea helmed by blockbuster making director Kang-woo Suk (Public Enemy) with a famous cast, yet slipping way under the radar in this part of the globe. And actually it has little to do with the ghost story and slasher genres typically associated with the season. What you’ll get, though, is a far better movie than any of those genres usually offers. This is one that both DB and I each reacted to individually with ecstatic approval – no long conversations necessary. Here then is my review of the next free Korean movie screening at Tribeca Cinemas: Moss!

What happens when attempts are made to subvert genuine spiritual faithfulness to serve the will of officially sanctioned but corrupt police authority? This question is posed and its answer explored Kang-woo Suk’s satisfying suspense thriller, Moss. It is a surprising film that hearkens back to a time when elaborate but highly entertaining character driven cinematic brain teasers were in their heyday. I was reminded of the experience of seeing films like The Usual Suspects and Seven for the first time. That there will be a twist ending is a given. It’s the amusement of trying to figure out what it will be that drives you to watch on.

The narrative starts out in a sleepy rural town some 30 years in the past, where the local church is having trouble maintaining followers due to a new spiritual leader in town. Yu Mok-Hyeon, The stoic new face in town, makes the former’s doom and gloom seem passé in the face of true joyful devoutness. There must be something amiss. Hands must be forced. At least that’s the rationalization of the first town priest and local law enforcement Cheon Yong-Deok for setting in motion a plan to incarcerate and otherwise cut down this new man of the cloth.

Despite Yong-Deok‘s worst intentions, he just can’t seem to get the job done. Those he enlists to do his dirty work return convinced that Ryu Mok-Hyeon’s path has the mark of a higher authority. The frustrated lawman gives up on his ill intentions and instead sets upon a new path. One that will unite earthly and heavenly authority in the noble cause of saving the souls of those who most need to be saved. At least that’s how it seems…

We jump ahead to the present where Ryu Hae-Kuk, the son of the mysterious priest, arrives at the somewhat less sleepy town to deal with news of his father’s death. After a terse ceremony, he decides that he wants to investigate the cloudy circumstances of his estranged parent’s death. The local townspeople, along with a remarkably and somewhat humorously aged Yong-Deok, just want him to go home. What ensues is an intriguing chess game with greed and power being the opposing forces to a will to uncover the truth.

As the game stretches on, flashbacks to the years in between the first scene and the present shed some light on the backgrounds of some of the village’s shady inhabitants, at least those closest to Yong-Deok, and events that transpired between him and Hae-Kuk’s father. These unhurried scenes are surely the cause of the film’s unusually long running time, but they add much appreciated depth to the story. They serve to show that the road to calm and serenity could be paved with devastating acts. Hae-Kuk‘s pursuit of justice also reveals that these roads are marked with secret passages, hidden basement stashes, and other sinister set pieces that put viewers in an adventurous frame of mind.

Action sequences are used sparingly, but when they occur, they are executed with the just the right amount of explicit detail to chill one’s blood. Painful incisions, scorching fires, and dizzying cliff side chases sharply punctuate the story’s otherwise pleasantly rolling pace.

Performances are amazing. Jung Jae-Young is brilliantly cold blooded and calculating as the village leader in both his younger and elderly incarnations, making a perfect counterbalance to Park Hae-il‘s (The Host) hotheaded Hae-Huk. Hardworking character actor Yu Hae-jin (who should be familiar to fans of the films of Ryu Seung Wan) also makes a welcome appearance as possibly the closest yet most bungling member of Yong-Deok‘s entourage. His exaggerated mannerisms and verbal expressions never fail to bring a scene to life.

The film’s one fault may be the execution of its conclusion, which after a comfortable, lazy pace, seems a bit rushed, forced even. The pieces come together in a way that makes sense, but it’s mostly dialogue driven. I wonder if things could have been resolved in a more powerful way. I’m somewhat torn over Yu Jun-Sang‘s role as a somewhat corrupt district attorney. He no doubt skillfully plays the part. It is the character itself, who goes through changes that may be necessary to bringing about the story’s resolution, which strikes me as something of a compromise. But, perhaps I am unfairly comparing the character to the entirely irredeemable public prosecutor portrayed by Ryu Seung-Beum in The Unjust.

Besides being a pleasingly riveting suspense film that will keep your eyes and mind in motion, Moss is admirable for dealing with several prominent themes in Korean cinema. In addition to questions over the nature of true religious legitimacy, Moss deals with the pitfalls of corruption and the divide between small town and cosmopolitan identity (Hae-Huk’s residence in Seoul is pointedly brought up several times by the village’s inhabitants. This is all done without ever bogging down the story. And yes you have to stay through to the last scene to appreciate all of its twists.

I strongly urge you to duck out of this season’s unusually early onset of cold and away from the throngs of costumed revelers in this year’s Halloween parade to see Moss at Tribeca Cinemas this Monday at 7:00 PM… for FREE!. Tickets are first come first serve. It’s a rare chance to see this crowd pleasing potboiler as it should be seen: on a large screen with a large group of people. And yes, Tribeca Cinemas does have popcorn.

1 comment:

  1. Well this certainly got my attention. The plot is very much interesting.