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Film Review: Galaxies (2024) by Choi Jung-han

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Film Review: Galaxies (2024) by Choi Jung-han

“We’re galaxies that lighten the dark stage”

Using music as a plot device, first-time director Choi Jung-han puts dreams and friendships under the scanner in his debut work “Galaxies”.

Eun-soo, Eun-ha and Dong-eun are three friends who form the band Eun-Ha-Soo, literally “Galaxies”. Eun-soo and Eun-ha are a couple who ran away from a music production company to showcase their individuality but, not least because of their age and said individuality, labels find them highly unmarketable and the three struggle to make ends meet. When Dong-eun, who is known to chronically invest in bad stock, takes and invests the band’s savings, loses it all and runs away, the angry Eun-soo and Eun-ha, who had let him stay in their apartment when he fell behind on rent, take an old guitar of Dong-eun’s and sell it on a marketplace. However, when Dong-eun returns with the money, they must trace back the guitar, which holds a lot of sentimental value to Dong-eun, and reunite him with it. 

Through the story of these three middle-aged friends, Choi Jung-han, who co-wrote the script with Ha Won-joon, partly takes a look at the nature of one’s dreams and the price one has to pay to achieve them. The three are adamant on keeping their originality and identity, such as it may be, even if it comes with a lack of success and financial hardship. Choi, however, keeps things fairly positive and light despite the circumstances, using comedy for this effect. The comedy doesn’t always land though, with a lot of gags just proving a little inadequate for the occasion. The payoff of the irritable bowel syndrome running gag, however, is effective. 

The second half of the feature is dedicated to the trio’s efforts to reclaim the sold guitar and the writing falters a bit here. While their adventures are interesting and often funny in their setup, some key elements are forgotten or disregarded along the way, like Dong-eun taking advance pay from his new job and never returning to it, for example. In addition to the adventures they have to go through to find their guitar, the internal journeys that the three have to go to find themselves as they meet all the various characters on their way to the guitar and, by extension, find their music as well is an interesting element of the story and one that works the most. The feature is in fact at its best when it is about the trio’s music. 

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Choi manages to enlist a trio of dependable character actors to play his lead bandmates. Yoon Je-moon, probably the most well known of the three, is always a joy to watch and “Galaxies” is no different. An actor who’s known to do both comedy and even villainous roles convincingly, he gets ample scope to shine here, as Dong-eun has one of the better internal journeys of the three, which Yoon portrays impressively. Kim Ji-hoon, who mostly does bit-part roles but is probably best known for playing Helsinki in Netflix’s “Money Heist: Korea – Joint Security Area”, is fun to watch as Eun-ha, and is called upon the most to provide comedy to the proceedings. Lee Shi-ah, meanwhile, may best best known to K-Drama viewers but is adorable as Eun-soo. The matriarch of the group, her outbursts in her own cute way are hilarious.

Despite being a story about music and musicians, the music in “Galaxies” is somewhat of a letdown. The background score is appropriate, but none of the songs manage to register as impressive, or even hummable. The ones in the beginning of the film are understandably so, as the story demands it, but the couple of songs that appear later on do not leave much of an impression. The bright cinematography, on the other hand, does impress, with the images being vivid and immersive throughout.

Ultimately, as far as low-budget productions go, “Galaxies” is a perfectly cute film and a breezy time as a whole, but it is not without its faults, particularly in the writing department, which do bring the overall enjoyment of it down and are complicit in the feature failing to leave a lasting impression.

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Film Review: King of Prison (2020) by Kang Tae-ho

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Film Review: King of Prison (2020) by Kang Tae-ho

“King of Prison” is an unusual prison film, which combines drama, action and comedy in a realistic package

Usually in prison films, there is a level of exotification, which moves towards violence in the case of the male ones and sex for the female ones. As such, it is always interesting to watch films that take a more realistic approach, with “King of Prison”, although not completely void of crowd-pleasing elements, definitely following this path.

The story is presented through the perspective of Lee Man-hee, a 28-year-old man who becomes a member of a violent crimes cell, after getting caught up in a violent incident. In his cell, he meets the King of the Prison, Beom Teol, who is actually a former gang member in his 50s, who only uses violence when someone from the cell is bullied or in order to break up fights, while frequently giving legal advice to whoever needs it. Wal-Wal, another man his age, is a true character, who is infamous of how much his excrement smells, while the ‘cell ‘room’ also fosters an older guy who was convicted as sexual offender and frequently makes others laugh with his absurd stories, among a number of other ‘characters’.

In general, things go smoothly in the whole prison, until a true kingpin, Jeong Tae-soo is admitted, and decides to take over the role of the King, with the help of the warden. After a series of failed attempts against Beom Teol, he decides to bring in KTX from isolation, a convict who seems to be as good in fighting as Beom-teol.

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Although there is the occasional fighting throughout, and a finale that moves in the particular path, Kang Tae-ho’s effort mostly focuses on portraying life inside the prison, which is actually dominated by boredom instead of danger. Beom Teol is one of the main sources of this approach, since both in terms of appearance (essentially a middle-aged man with a mustache) and overall demeanor move towards the particular direction, with him rarely actually fighting.

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The way even the most insignificant treats of the outside worlds are treated as valuables inside adds another level in the same direction, with the same applying to drugs, homosexuality and sexual release. Particularly the last aspect offers one of the most realistic scenes, with Wal-Wal’s interaction with his visiting wife, and his requests, highlighting the fact in the most eloquent fashion. The friendship Man-hee strikes with another prisoner his age, although with some homosexual connotations, is in the same path. Lastly, the way corruption works inside, through the cooperation with the employees of the prison, cements this approach.

Granted, occasionally the film goes too far, particularly regarding the presentation of defecation, which eventually even becomes part of the action, but in general, the approach is grounded.

Regarding the action scenes, the fact that the main protagonist is a middle aged man does restrict it somewhat, although the fact that the impressive throughout Lee Sol-gu exhibits a sense of danger with every move definitely helps. In general, the whole thing is slow, while the showdown with KFC could definitely have been handled better. On the other hand, one could say that this approach also follows the overall realistic one.

Apart from Lee Sol-gu, the ones who steal the show are Lee Hyun-woong as Wai-wai, the main source of comedy here, and Yoo Sang-jae who portrays a truly sinister villain as Tae-soo. Kim Min as KTX is both good in the fighting scenes and the humorous ones. The cinematography again focuses on realism, without particular exaltations in terms of visuals, while the editing could have been handled a bit better, at least in terms of pacing. It does not harm the film significantly though.

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“King of Prison” is an unusual prison film, which combines drama, action and comedy in a realistic package definitely deserving a watch.

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How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies: a movie review

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How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies: a movie review

(Editor’s note: Spoiler alert: Today’s column contains details that reveal major details in the movie “How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies,” which is still showing in theaters.)

A mah or Grandmother (Usha Seamkhum) has stomachaches and blood in her stool, but her children do not tell her about having stage 4 colon cancer. This situation, one of several in the Thai film “How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies,” hits close to home for many Tsinoy, Pinoy and other Asian families, making this comedy-tearjerker a box-office and viral sensation.

Hoping to be the prime beneficiary of her will, the family suck up to Amah, visiting her often and bringing favorite foods. M (Putthipong Assaratanakul), a college dropout, is inspired by his cousin Mui (Tontawan Tantijevakul), who takes great care of her own grandfather and inherits a fortune upon his death. So M decides to move in himself and take care of Amah.

Suspicious of such sudden solicitude, Amah confronts M, who tells her the truth. Amah’s stoicism upon knowing she has at most a year to live, reminds me of my father, who reacted to the horrible news the same way. He had the same disease, though he only had one month with us after diagnosis.

Amah repeats what M says—it is her body, so she has a right to know. When I work with families, some shield the elderly, fearing that they cannot handle the shock of death. I respect this genuine concern, but the older generation are often stronger than we think.

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Amah’s three children portray negative Asian tropes. Eldest son Kiang (Sanya Kunakorn), a self-centered stockbroker, does not make time to visit Amah. The film satirizes his aspirations. He sends his daughter to an international school, endangering her fluency in Teochew. I laugh out loud when M reminds the child to greet Amah in her native tongue—most Tsinoy youngsters will likely squirm at this, given their ineptness in any Chinese dialect. Kiang also grandiosely brings Amah to a temple, but instead of praying for her health, he asks favors for himself. When she does not give him her house, he vows not to attend her funeral.

Youngest son Soei (Pongsatorn Jongwilas), an inveterate gambler, steals Amah’s hard-earned baht (she sells congee every dawn). But like any Asian parent, Amah still gives the house to him, knowing that this is the only way he can pay off his debt. In a self-righteous fit of rage, M accuses Amah of enabling Soei, and loving the wrong person.

As a psychologist trained in Western methods, I have to agree that M. Amah enables Soei, fixing his mistakes and never letting him face the consequences. But as a Tsinoy, I know this is part of traditional culture. For most of his life, my father, who worked extremely hard, was disappointed by relatives who asked him incessantly for favors, and he was saddened when some even got mad when they perceived that the others received more. When I asked him why he still supported them, he said he had no choice since they could not fend for themselves. My friends who migrated to the West cannot understand this, but those who are here nod knowingly.

This behavior may taper off, since the younger generations I deal with mostly resolve to prioritize their own well-being, and choose to ignore family entitlement. Whether prudent or not, I do not know, but the film deserves credit for bringing difficult issues to light.

Middle child and only daughter Chew (Sarinrat Thomas), M’s mother, is the most likable of the three, but Amah finds her self-sacrificial mien disturbing. Working a supermarket shift by night and taking Amah to chemotherapy by day is not wise, and when M tells his mother that Amah privately cries over this, the former retorts that Amah never sheds a tear for her. We know that childhood hurts lurk beneath the surface. M offers to act as his mother’s representative and bring Amah for treatment

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Filled with Buddhist rituals (Guanyin is my late mother’s favorite goddess, and I confess to lighting incense to her, too) and shot in Bangkok’s Chinatown, the movie resonates true, with a surprise ending that is also bittersweet. No more spoilers—watch the movie now.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her print book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected].



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Movie Reviews

Cora Bora (2024) – Movie Review

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Cora Bora (2024) – Movie Review

Cora Bora, 2024.

Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt.
Starring Megan Stalter, Jojo T. Gibbs, Manny Jacinto, Ayden Mayeri, Thomas Mann, Chrissie Fit, Andre Hyland, Chelsea Peretti, Margaret Cho, and Darrell Hammond.

SYNOPSIS:

Fearing her relationship status, Cora returns home to win her girlfriend back, but she realizes much more than her love life needs salvaging.

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Who knew Cora Bora would be the most triggering film of the year? No, we aren’t talking about the jokes. The comedy did not offend me, but the film surprisingly hit so close to home that it almost felt ripped out of my social media feeds. We all know someone like Cora, brought to life by comedian Megan Stalter.

That friendship can be tiresome and toxic. We struggle with the growing pains as they seek redemption for their past deeds. That’s what watching Cora Bora conjured up, the feelings of watching the awkward comeback of a person from your past, and goodness, it has its ups and downs.

Director Hannah Pearl Utt deserves all the acclaim for nailing this indie darling and walking the fine line of handling an insufferable leading character. And that is not a swipe against Megan Stalter, who plays the role with true conviction and perfection, but it’s a role that asks a lot from its viewers.

In the grand tradition of “I’ve messed up my life and have to return home” dramedies, Cora Bora follows our titular protagonist as they make the walk of shame back home and bring a cloud of chaos with them. Coming off a rough run in Los Angeles, Cora ventures back to Portland to confront what she believes is her long-distance girlfriend, Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs), having an affair…even though they’re in an open relationship.

That exact contradiction is the basis for so much of what happens with Cora that it quickly begins to wear thin on you. Still, Hannah Pearl Utt’s direction and Statler’s performance reel it back at the moment of pure second-hand embarrassment.

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That’s not to say cringe and awkward moments aren’t the basis for most of the comedy, as is how the media is geared at this demographic. I just chalked it up to not understanding the chunks of comedic bits I didn’t enjoy in the film, as it sometimes felt super Gen-Z.

Surprisingly, the “drama” is where I felt most of the film’s weight, seeing that Megan Statler had more range than the early parts of the script gave her. A particular monologue from late in the movie rounds out many character choices, even if it would still take me a lot to justify just how much of a headache Cora was early on.

Again, that’s the odd beauty of the film. Hannah Pearl Utt thrusts you into this situation with a realness that makes you look into your life.

Outside of Megan Stalter, no actor or performance stands out. And that’s no fault of the performers themselves. Great talents like Manny Jacinto, Jojo T. Gibbs, and Margaret Cho barely exist to support our protagonist’s journey, so they come off like NPCs in a video game rather than supporting roles.

It’s easy to chalk this up as a vehicle to get Megan Stalter into the mainstream and serve as a comedy showcase, but it would work better if she had better characters to work off of. Take Chris Farley’s Tommy Boy or Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison; both served as essential showcases for the central talents, but they at least knew to surround the lead with worthwhile characters. Even with that, there are small glimmers of what could work, and those actors make the most of them. Jacinto gets the most character development and makes every charming moment believable, even in the most unbelievable circumstances.

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Returning to the likability and the grating nature of the film’s tone, it does hamper the overall experience when the characters are contrived or off-putting. As someone who doesn’t like the quirky tone of a Portlandia, it feels like this film is filled with the little weirdos you’d meet there.

Come for Megan Stalter’s comedy, but stay for that powerful monologue. When she eventually wants to leave comedy behind and become a prestige actress, it could be there. Let’s hope she doesn’t hang around in the cringe trenches too long.

Cora Bora is a great starting point for all involved, but it lacks the secret sauce that elevates it from a “Meet This Bright New Talent Movie” to an all-time comedy classic.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

EJ Moreno

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