Korean 'western' is great cultural mash-upAug. 9, 2010
By G. Michael Dobbs
A thoroughly satisfying cross-cultural mash-up and a so-so romantic comedy are featured in this week's DVD review column.
How to Make Love to a Woman
I must admit a grudging respect for some old school exploitation values exhibited in this new sexually tinged romantic comedy.
First, the title sounds like something one of the old road show producers would have brought 60 years ago from one theater to another. There was once a kind of movie that low budget producers made and showed to men-only and women-only audiences discussing intimate subjects that invariably included a live lecture from a "hygiene" expert!
Second, the design of the cover art suggests the film might be part of the "American Pie" series. It's not. Deception was part of the exploitation experience.
Third, while one might expect there would be some nudity in the film, there isn't any. Explicit language, yes, nudity, no. "Bait and switch" is also a fine tradition of the exploitation film.
Lastly the inclusion of adult film legend Jenna Jameson in the cast puts forth the promise of some hotsy-totsy action, but guess what? Jameson's cameo role is certainly demure and brief.
Having noted all that, "How to Make Love to a Woman" isn't a bad little comedy that plays on basic miscommunication between two people who love one another, but it's not a truly notable film at all.
Josh Meyers of "Mad TV" is a record company executive who realizes he isn't much of a lover, even though he cares deeply for his girlfriend. He goes on quest to improve his skills, but hits a roadblock when his bumbling and ego causes her to consider accepting a job offer in another city.
There are some talented character actors in the cast, including Ken Jeong and James Hong, who brought some additional mirth to the proceedings and Meyers is fine as the lead as is Krysten Ritter as his girlfriend.
There is nothing particularly outstanding or memorable, though, about the film and that's the problem.
The DVD extras include the usual making of feature in which the producers actually describe just how difficult it is to make a film in just 19 days.
The Good, the Bad, the Weird
I've sung the praises of Asian films before in this column and this 2008 Korean "western" set in Manchuria in the 1930s during the Japanese occupation would be a great introduction for a newcomer.
What always fascinates me is how Asian filmmakers -- whether they are Japanese, Chinese, Korean or Indonesian -- have pushed their own history, culture and attitudes through a filter of film grammar, technology and iconography that is largely American. The results are films that look familiar in some ways but take viewers along paths they didn't expect. As a film fan, that's what I live for.
In this case, Korean director and writer Jee-woon Kim has clearly been influenced by westerns in general, but especially by Sergio Leone's classic western, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," which in turn was the great Italian director's reimagining of American westerns.
Kang-ho Song is "the Weird," a Korean outlaw who steals a treasure map that is the object of desire by a Chinese crime lord as well as the Japanese occupying forces. Byung-hun Lee is "the Bad," a skilled assassin who understands the value of the map and seeks to have it for himself. Woo-sung Jung is "the Good," a no-nonsense bounty hunter who dresses like a cowboy and seems to have patterned himself after Gary Cooper.
The director knows how to stage great action sequences -- from an outstanding train robbery to some spectacular fights -- but he also infuses the film with a uniquely Asian perspective. The Korean outlaw longs to return home, now occupied by a brutal Japanese regime. The cultural and historical differences of Asian people come into play in this film.
Jee-woon Kim also understands how to use humor and sentimentality to sustain the viewer's interest.
I really liked this film and think you might as well if you can suspend your disbelief a bit -- I can't quite believe Manchuria was as much as like the wild west as it was portrayed -- and give the subtitles a chance. I always opt for subtitles, as I really want to hear the performances of the actors even if I don't understand the language.
Check it out.