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[MOVIE REVIEW]'The Restless' offers unprecedented graphic works

2006/12/18 | Permalink | Source

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"Jungcheon (The Restless)" has four strengths: star casting, it was shot in China, superb computer graphics and renowned international staff. The question is whether these advantages can make up for its single weakness; flimsy storytelling.

The film's most visible marketing gimmick is that Jung Woo-sung and Kim Tae-hee take lead roles. Jung is certainly a major Korean heartthrob, with some solid performances under his belt. Kim Tae-hee's performance makes a compelling argument that she is equally as good as Jung, attracting a mostly-male audience with her trademark 'big eyes'.

Without these two actors investors would not have poured 10.9 billion won ($11.7 million) in the project, which is led by first-time director Jo Dong-ho.

The big-budget film, to be released nationwide on Thursday, takes on a truly Asian theme about death and life. When people die, it is believed that their soul hovers in the intermediate stage between the physical world and heaven. Lee Kwak, played by Jung, makes it to the intermediate stage where souls wait for 49 days before they climb into heaven - and here he meets his loved one, So-hwa, played by Kim. The focus in the film is how the two resolve a conflict in the surreal world.

To amplify its fantasy appeal, the production team opted to shoot the film entirely in China and it seems their investment has paid off. Unlike other Korean fantasy films, "The Restless" shows off grandiose visuals.

Moreover, international staff helped the film achieve greater cinematic effects. Shiro Sagisu, a renowned Japanese film music artist, upgraded the overall level of music, while equally respectable award-winning Emi Wada infused vitality to the traditional Asian costumes featured in the film.

Computer graphics - the most important element of the film - demonstrate a higher level than widely expected. Digital Tetra Inc., affiliated with Korea's state-run research center ETRI, worked with 11 other companies to create better computer graphics, and their efforts are fully reflected in as many 750 high-quality computer-generated cuts.

Thanks to sophisticated computer graphics, battle scenes shine throughout the film. When main characters get entangled in a fight, no blood is shed. Instead, computer-generated images literally shatter away the victims into ashes - a stunning visual that deserves all due credits.

Director Jo and the computer graphics team spent almost a year generating computer scenes that bolster the film's fantasy aspect and add intricate cinematic layers.

This fantasy flic may be a good alternative for those who want to avoid typical Christmas comedies and romances.

But a problem may arise for some viewers who think storytelling is more important than computer graphics. "The Restless" starts with a promising premise as a fantasy film: a handsome evil-chasing man falls into a stage where life and death are intertwined, and again falls into a conflict to protect a woman he loves.

Lee Kwak's accidental entry into the Jungcheon world has many surprises. The most important revelation is that his former love, So-hwa, seems alive in a soul-only land, and she has no memory about her past - including her relationships with Lee Kwak.

So far, so good. But when So-hwa finally speaks and Kim Tae-hee strives to act up the character, fantasy begins to disappear. Kim's delivery of key sentences is neither convincing nor realistic. The character is supposed to be a powerful semi-deity in this fantasy world, but Kim's So-hwa is simply clueless. She often has no grasp about what's going on, and Kim's efforts to open her already "big eyes" in a big way accentuates the puzzlement that constantly plagues the disoriented character.

Flashbacks are also overused but rarely utilized to their full potential. When the main characters interact with supporting actors, a gaping hole in the storyline is embarrassingly visible. Some characters intrude into the main story without enough explanations, undercutting the strength of the already shaky storytelling.

Although the film hovers between computer graphics and flimsy storytelling, movie-goers should be relieved: they don't have to wait for 49 days to re-enter the mundane world since the movie's running time is a relatively short 105 minutes.

By Yang Sung-jin

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