Episode 54: Please Teach Me English (2003, Sung-su Kim) / Zardoz (1974, John Boorman)

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The book of Genesis, written and illustrated by Robert Crumb, tells of an enormous tower built by a united humanity following the Great Flood through which Noah floated his boat. And God said, “They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” The resulting divine wrecking ball on the tower of Babel scattered the languages of the Earth into those which confound us to this day: Spanish, Italiano, Farsi, L33t speak, Esperanto, English, Korean and Science Fiction. This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast attempts to disseminate the latter three for normal talkin’ folks.

South Korean flicks discussed previously on the podcast (Conduct Zero, Asako in Ruby Shoes) tend to successfully juggle more than one genre of film within a broader category – a dash of action and/or drama to spice up comedy, or vice versa. This happens because S.K. filmmakers are apparently not too hung up on pigeonholing their film’s storytelling potential – which is unlimited, because it is film – based on marketing demographics. They trust their audiences to enjoy being pleasantly surprised and not explode when the movie they’re watching isn’t all tragedy or comedy, much like life.

Please Teach Me English is a comedy about Koreans taking ESL classes. In terms of filmmaking language, Sung-su Kim is already multilingual himself. Although the main character is a girl, this is not a “chick flick.” Although the crux of her story is a romance, this is not a “romantic comedy.” Although the film is very funny, there is drama, but don’t dare call it a “comedy-drama.” To be sure, this film speaks all those languages – enough to get by. The dialect however is unaffected by the lazy American slang we’re used to.

Zardoz is a tongue twister of a movie, and not just because the title requires an explanation. Everything does, from names to history to “second level meditation.” Science Fiction authors with grandiose ideas to depict have their work cut out for themselves translating concepts that must take place hundreds of years in the future to seem remotely possible. Sometimes the aesthetics of a piece are beyond technobabble or quasi-plausible scientific language though, like a giant floating stone head named Zardoz who pukes up guns. This is why dense sci-fi / fantasy novels like Dune are usually laughed out of theater before their lengthy pre-credits exposition prologues are even finished.

John Boorman followed his commercial and critical smash hit Deliverance with this satirical dystopic adventure of his own devising and although as a director his command of visual language is impeccable, he just didn’t seem to understand how to translate his ideas as anything but terminally silly. Every film of this type has a good share of made-up vocabulary and terminology, but when every other scene introduces more and more there’s just an information overload. Deciphering the code of Zardoz is an especially difficult study and we do stay a little late after class to crack it.

An Alan Smithee Podcast will slowly talk you through the trickier phrases of post-Planet of the Apes, pre-Star Wars sci-fi after a delightful bilingual flirtation.

NEXT EPISODE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE SPECIAL! THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974, TOBE HOOPER) & THE RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE aka TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994, KIM HENKEL)

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Episode 52: Far Cry (2008, Uwe Boll) / Conduct Zero (2002, Geun-shik Jo)

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This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we follow the exploits of two tuff furriners taking on the very very odds. Our wonderful global village produces many multicultured approaches to encroaching perils. In South Korea, where coming-of-age dramas are just as dangerously wacky as ghost stories, a tuff man will alternate between buffoonish badassery and doe-eyed sensitivity to accommodate the hodgepodge of genres at play in the typical SK flick. The stoic German, on the other hand, accepts an escalating hodgepodge with laconic forthrightness – even or perhaps especially when the tones attempting to be juggling by the filmmaker keeps dropping to the floor.

Conduct Zero, aka Zero In Conduct and No Manners is almost maddeningly typical of South Korean movies: it incorporates different moods within a single category, in this case a high school comedy-drama, and does so deftly. As the trailer helpfully explains, this is an “Ultra Spectacle Sup Cap-jjung Romance Comic Action Drama” type picture. Charmingly roguish Seung-beom Ryu is Jung-pil, the worst behaved delinquent at Moonduk High. Life turns upside down when he falls for a goody two shoes named Min-hee and has to romance her while retaining his bad boy image to the rest of the school. Befitting the fact that this is also an unannounced 1980s period piece, Jung-pil seeks the help of a nerd to get closer to his geeky girl. Unlike your average teen movie though, writer-director Geun-shik Jo is almost as interested in the peripheral characters of this drama as his protagonist and a little sympathetic to almost everyone, even Na-young, the girl gang leader equivalent to Jung-pil who targets Min-hee out of jealousy for Jung-pil’s attention. Empathic humanity combined with digitally enhanced slapstick direction makes Zero In Conduct a perfect example of why South Korean movies are so uniquely well made and accessible to American audiences.

Far Cry is technically several kinds of bad movie, the action-syfy channel-horror timekiller, yet this hybrid has been around so long it’s practically one genre. There only annotation required to explain why it caught our attention over all the others is that the director is Uwe Boll, king of German tax sheltered crap video game tie-ins. While we hate to admit the guy has become somewhat a more competent director since 2003’s House of the Dead – if not of actors then of middling action scenes – his resident screenwriting team of Michael Roesch (Alone In The Dark,) Peter Scheerer (Alone In The Dark) and Masaji Takei (Bloodrayne II: Deliverance, as featured previously on An Alan Smithee Podcast) definitely haven’t evolved in the least. The dialogue and unbalanced interspersing of comic relief with the genetic super-soldier carnage seems more a ploy to keep their boss from getting bored while making his own movie than creating an emotional rollercoaster ride. Lead teutonic tuffman Til Schweiger – recently featured in Inglourious Basterds as another German, Hugo Stiglitz – fares a lot better with the comedy than the action, and faring well in any regard under the auspice of Uwe is no small feat.

Prefacing this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is a special spirited wrap-up on the subject of Piranha 3D, a film heavily theorized about in our previous Piranha themed episode and our look at the James Cameron 1981 sequel. What happens when two fans of the original don’t see eye to eye on the new version? Who will survive and what will be left of them?

NEXT EPISODE: SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (1962, RICHARD BROOKS) & BATS (1999, LOUIS MORNEAU)