Summer Movie List: Chaplin, Scorsese, Baumbach and 2 Korean classics

In the past three days I watched six films of varying genres and styles from acclaimed directors and represent some of the finest that cinema can offer. It took a few days for me to process what I saw, but here are some brief thoughts I’ve had on each one of the films I watched. In the future, I might write more about these films, but for now I still need time to think through them.

1. Frances Ha (2013) – dir. Noah Baumbach

The photography in this film is beautiful, each scene perfectly lit and shot like a still photo. Frances is a frustrating childish character but Greta Gerwig never lets her neuroses, her constant need for attention and her chatty personality make her less likable. In fact, all her tics are endearing even if they can get annoying and self-important. Being from New York City, I can relate to some of her concerns and having friends who live this kind of life. Overall, what a fine and funny film worthy of all the hype. Grade: A-

2. Taxi Driver (1975) – dir. Martin Scorsese

That opening shot with the taxi coming out of the smoke with the jazz music blaring in the background slayed me. The next two hours was just one beautiful shot after another with the jazz music seeping through my skin. Robert De Niro gives one of the finest performances ever on screen, detailing the ever-growing neuroses and the unchecked machismo as each minute ticks by. This film is perhaps the best I’ve seen from Scorsese’s oeuvre so far and I’m excited to watch his older stuff now that I have a taste of what he accomplished. Grade: A+

3. City Lights (1931) – dir. Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin is hilarious and even if he doesn’t utter a single word, every gesture, motion, expression registers so much feeling or meaning that words are useless. Chaplin is a fascinating director: each scene almost feels random with little to no connection, but the plot reveals themselves once the story progresses. I love that Chaplin makes jokes about alcoholism or about diseases or sickness without once being offensive. It helps that Chaplin is an astounding actor, who knows his body so well. Overall, one of the funniest films I’ve seen ever. Grade: A+

4. My Sassy Girl (2001) – dir. Kwak Jaeyoung

I’ve know about My Sassy Girl for a while now, since every Korean friend or even some of my non-Asian friends swear by how amazingly funny it is. And now that I’ve seen it, add me to the chorus of believers. Cha Tae-hyun and Jeon Ji-hyun are known for playing similar character types and they’ve built a career on doing the kind of films that play to those strengths; namely, Cha’s adorable dorkiness and Jeon’s hilarious feistiness. This film basically set that standard for them and I can see why everyone was won over. This film brims with hilarity anchored by an emotional and melancholic story. Cha and Jeon have so much chemistry that it overcomes even the slower less interesting parts of the story. Grade: A-

5. Oldboy (2004) – dir. Park Chan Wook

This is such a bizarre film. Each image is more unsettling the next but Park has such a remarkable control of each scene, particularly a long take of Dae-su fighting through men with a hammer, that I couldn’t look away. The film has so much “wrong” about it, with the incest and intense fascination with violence. I can see why Quentin Tarantino went crazy for it Cannes in 2004, it has a lot of his hallmarks. But for all of the craziness here, this film thrives on the human emotions and feelings that its characters go through. Choi Min-sik, in particular, gives a moving performance of a man unhinged. That last encounter with Yoo Ji Tae’s Lee Woo Jin is exhilarating acting. Grade: A

Up next: Fargo and When Harry Met Sally


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