All three of our DVD/Blu-ray releases this week have Asian directors and settings. In Another Country from South Korean director Hong Sang-soo examines relationships while The Sorcerer and the White Snake directed by Ching Siu-tung and Woochi, The Demon Slayer directed by Choi Dong-Hoon, are both action-filled fantasy flicks with non-stop fight scenes.
Let's start with In Another Country, the first ever English-language film from Hong Sang-soo. Held together by a loose frame, Country has three interrelated stories. French actress Isabelle Huppert appears in each. First she's a famous filmmaker visiting a Korean director, then she's an executive's wife meeting her lover and finally, she's a divorced homemaker wanting to lick her wounds after her husband leaves her for his secretary. Each of the three women are named Anne and each is the only foreigner in a small seaside town. Each also attracts the attention of the resident lifeguard (played by Yu Junsang) and a clumsy romance of sorts blossoms.
Hong visits two of his favorite themes in Country: the sexual frustration of women and the selfishness of men. Some events are repeated in the trio of stories, with small alterations that make significant differences. Hong reportedly approached Huppert about the project saying he was about to start a film but didn't have a script or, in fact, even a set plot, and would she like to appear in it? Huppert, who's often been described as adventurous on screen, supposedly accepted on the spot. The resulting film is engaging and fresh, although not completely perfect (Hong sometimes calls attention to his camera work which momentarily distracts from the story).
At different timesThe Sorcerer & the White Snake
was also calledMadam White Snake
andThe Emperor and the White Snake
. Can you guess there's a white snake involved? The film stars legend Jet Li and is based on a Chinese folktale. The plot is complicated, very complicated; here's the abbreviated version: An unsuspecting man, Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) falls in love with a woman, Susu (Eva Huang), who's actually a snake demon in human form. A Buddhist abbot, Fahai (Jet Li) comes along and tries to capture the demon and save the man's soul. Also in the mix is Qingqing (Charlene Choi), another snake demon who isn't quite sure demon-human love is a good idea, but is willing to protect her friend at any cost. The action scenes, as expected, are exquisite and hardly hampered by the fact that the plot gets convoluted from time to time ("Is she a good snake or a bad snake? Oh, all the snakes are bad ... but she seems to be trying to be good. No? He does or doesn't love her? And why did they just stab each other?").
Extras on the DVD include a behind-the-scenes featurette focusing on the stunts and fight scenes with Jet Li, another about the visual effects and another about the snake demons. There's also the theatrical trailer.
Choi Dong-Hoon'sWoochi, The Demon Slayer
starring Gang Dong-Won as a slightly lazy, very egotistical wizard of questionable talent, is based on a Korean legend populated by demons, Taoist gods, wizards, princesses and a shapeshifting man-dog. The action starts several hundred years ago when Woochi is mistakenly thought to have killed his master. As punishment, he's trapped in a painting. Fast forward to 2009, (try to keep up here) the same wizards who trapped Woochi sets him free asking his help in capturing some demons. Those wizards are the ones that set the demons free in the first place, but they try not to talk about that. Woochi's friend, a shape-shifting man-dog (when he isn't being a man-horse) is along for the ride. We watchedWoochi
twice trying to untangle the various plot points but we gave up half-way through the second viewing and just accepted that the fight scenes are spectacular and we don't really need to know which demon does what in order to enjoy Woochi beat the stuffing out of them. Thankfully, all of the humor isn't lost in translation and while we're sure the dialogue is even wittier in the original Korean, there were plenty of laughs in the English subtitled version we saw. DVD extras include deleted scenes, several featurettes and a CGI guide to wizards and monsters.
None of today's three films is perfect, but we can still whole heartedly recommend them. Each is fun and/or spectacular in its own way and each deserves a viewing.