Weekend Viewing Roundup & MSPIFF14 Review: Intruders (2013)

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After the snow storm on Friday, this weekend turned out to be absolutely gorgeous. Saw four movies this weekend:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the second time around (yep, still love it!). It’s currently my favorite Marvel stand-alone movie!
  • Capricorn One – a fantastic 1977 space conspiracy thriller (Thanks Michael for lending it to me!). Review upcoming but I really enjoyed this one, and that ending was awesome!
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  • For my first day at MSPIFF, I saw two films yesterday:
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Here’s our reviews of Brave Miss World and David Gordon Green’s JOE. I’m thrilled to not only saw such a great documentary about such an important yet devastating issue of rape, but I got to meet filmmaker Cecilia Peck, yes Gregory Peck daughter! After the Q&A, I went up to her and tell her how huge of a fan I was of her dad, and that I appreciate her making such a great film on an important topic. She clearly cares about social justice issues like her dad did, and she is just as beautiful inside and out as well. Too bad all four of the photos taken were so dark (turns out the flash was off), but you could see a bit of our smiling faces I think 😀

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I’m thrilled to tag team with Josh from JJames Reviews (who’s way more than qualified btw) in covering MSPIFF 2014! He’ll be contributing MSPIFF reviews for the next three weeks. Starting with this one from South Korea:

INTRUDERS

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The Festival staffperson who introduced Intruders pitched it as being “Fargo by way of South Korea.” She wasn’t far off, at least when considering the ways both films generate humor through flawed characters and unexpected plot twists. That each includes sweeping wintry landscapes and impressive cinematography facilitates the comparison, as well.

In Intruders, writer Sang-jin (Jun Suk-ho) takes a bus to the Gangwon province in South Korea’s mountainous north, where he plans to stay at a closed and otherwise unoccupied bed and breakfast that belongs to his boss’s family. While alone at the resort, Sang-jin hopes to finally complete his screenplay, for which his boss is impatiently waiting. Unfortunately, the writer faces significant challenges, including writers’ block, a talkative ex-convict named Hak-su (Oh Tae-kyung), two scary hunters, a group of young skiers who think he manages the resort, and a local police officer (Choi Moo-soung). It only gets worse when he becomes increasingly convinced that the bed and breakfast is unsafe.

Along the way, Intruders reminds us of several mainstream films, including, of course, Fargo (1996), but also Prisoners (2013) and Misery (1990), a project writer/director Noh Young-seok jokingly references in Intruders’ first act. All are favorable comparisons, largely because Noh makes many strong authorial and directorial decisions. Start with his screenplay, which impressively shows not tells the most important characters. We know Sang-jin intimately, despite only passing references to his backstory and limited dialogue explaining his current motivations. Then, we see him change through carefully developed scenes.

Hak-su and the cop are similarly well written, but Noh struggles a bit with his secondary characters. The hunters are enigmas and most of the skiers are stereotypically inconsiderate youngsters, indistinguishable from one another. Only Yu-mi (Han En-sun) is given some treatment, but even she is too thinly defined, what with only two character traits: angry and shrill.

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Yet, Noh Young-seok’s screenplay mostly overcomes flaws in development of secondary characters, partially because it masterfully foreshadows plot twists, so well, in fact, that we are never certain what will happen next, but also never stunned into disbelief by new developments. In his long opening sequence, for instance, Noh shows Sang-jin’s obliviousness, playing it for humor but also staying with it long enough that we know it will be important later. Frequent newscasts foreshadow what is to come, as do many other examples I will not directly cite.

That Intruders is often laugh out loud funny, even in its darkest moments, helps as well. As do the actors, all of whom are perfectly understated. Special mention to Oh Tae-kyung who plays Hak-su so skillfully that we can never be certain whether or not the character is an innocent bystander, a villain or something in between.

Neither the screenplay nor the actors are Intruders greatest merit, however. Noh’s direction is. Take for example, his camera work. By frequently placing subjects in the center of the screen, and by using lengthy point of view shots, the director increases our sense of intimacy with his characters. Plus, he keeps the camera perfectly still for the majority of the film, only to move it in bursts of lengthy pans, arcs and editing cuts, techniques that heighten or lessen tension fittingly. As just one more example of Noh’s directorial talent, Intruders’ ambiguous symbolism works very well; when, at one point, Noh cuts away to a close up of a spider web, we have to wonder: is Sang-jun the spider or the trapped prey?

The director is so good that we can overlook Intruders’ unsatisfying jump cut to end credits or its inconsistent use of telephones. No matter its few minor flaws, this film is very good.

four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels

P.S. So far, Intruders lacks US distribution. Hopefully that changes.

Review by Josh

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Thoughts on the film(s) above? What did YOU see this weekend, folks?