“Slow Video” Korean Movie Review: FOX… Not the greatest bet to make in Korea Movies.

Hello. This is AKIA Talking writing from Korea. I have been rather hesitant to do any serious writing for about a week. The reasons for this are rather uncertain.  Who knows why these episodes of  melancholia happens. I needed to google the word “melancholia” because it was on the tip of my soggy brain but nothing was being outputted.

I was thinking what is a fancy way of saying depression…
So, I googled 1800s depression. And bamm! melancholia
In any case, this is my review of a Korean movie called “Slow Video”.

“Slow Video” is the Korea lingo for slow motion. It has been around since the VHS days. It is one of the weird English terms we ended up mangling. However, there is some nostalgia to this lingo. Just think of it as a folksy slang from the 80s. If you think about it,the composition of the lingo is rather off target from the original term. While the outcome of both lingoes may be the same, with “Slow Video”, the display device is the focus rather than the action. This movie “Slow Video” is off its target in a lot of ways too. This review will include spoilers. However, you will not care.

It is a rather weird movie that is not terrible but has serious clashed regarding what it is and what is pretends to be. It is an old man in his 60s wearing hipster clothes and rapping as if no one would notice that he is actually a man in his 60s wearing hipster clothes and rapping.

Here is the plot description. According to Wikipedia, “Yeo Jang-boo possesses dynamic visual acuity, which enables him to visually discern fine detail in a moving object that ordinary people cannot, as if he's seeing the world in slow motion … He spends 20 years isolated and alone, but … ends up working at his neighbor's CCTV control center…Despite being terrible at social interactions, Jang-boo sets out to win her heart.”

If it was to describe the genre of the movie, I would say it is a Korean style Romantic Dramady in which over the top comedy moments are rather awkwardly and too frequently inserted along the drama. If you have seen even some Korean entertainment that are not a straight downer, you will know what I mean.

This plot summary has some keywords that you need to remember: slow motion which is called slow video, isolated, CCTV, terrible at social interactions, heart. There are two main conceits to this movie: Superpower and CCTV surveillance as a means of romance and not being creepy.

Superpowers…does the movie need it?
The first main conceit of the movie is that our protagonist has eyes that give him the abilities to see in slow motion. In other words, he basically has super powers albeit a rather lame one. Considering that Superhero movies are all the rave recently, you may be getting excited about the movie.  This seems the case for FOX which distributed the movie in Korea. Here is a link about the news article related to FOX’s involvement with this movie.

As a side note, it was a weird feeling seeing the 20th century fox logo come up in front of an obviously Korean feeling movie.

So, does this power make him a superhero? Nope. 

Like many superpowers, if you really think about it, it has no practical use. It only ends up isolating our male protagonist from others. Thus, he ends up growing up as a weird, erratic, and, in specific lights, someone who feels like he is somewhat retarded. As a result, the movie reminded me of “Forrest Gump” (1994). You know, a fluff story about a man who has a slight deficiency in his head going far because of some weird talent. Well not the going far part for “Slow Video” but definitely the slow in the head part. But “Slow Video” is really reminiscence of “Forrest Gump” especially in the beginning.

It is too bad for FOX that “Slow Video” is not a superhero movie. It is nowhere close to a superhero movie. At its core, the whole superpower element is just a very very very shallow gimmick that was used to scam the audience and to a point FOX about what the movie is actually. It is a typical romance melodrama with comedic elements. Nothing more!

Eyes…What is the hidden meaning behind eyesight?
Immediately after the movie starts, you get some idea of what is going on by the fact that the explanation of the protagonist’s medical condition is ridiculous even for a superhero movie. Being bitten by a radioactive spider or getting exposed to gamma rays would be more believable.  Why would being able to see in slow motion be associated with eye sight? Super eye sight may be associated with seeing farther or seeing further.
See what I did?
My soggy brain was confused with farther vs. further.
So, I googled it.

Both are involved with the quality or quality of information gathered by one’s eyes. The slow motion thing is related to processing and thus our protagonist’s powers originate from his brain rather than his eyes. So, why the focus on eye sight?

Just think eye sight and Korean drama or movies!
Eye sight and melodramas?
You’re getting an idea in your brain which would be less soggy than mine at the moment.

The superpower in this story has two functions. The first is to explain why the protagonist is such a weird, and slightly retarded outcast. It is set up to justify the use of a weird character to amp up the comedic elements of the movie which I already think was too much. In other words, it is used to fit the protagonist into a “Forrest Gump” character mold without actually getting into the uncomfortable area of mental deficiency. It does not work and I kept wondering if the protagonist was not retarded throughout the movie. 

Should you deceive the audience in the basic romance movie?
The second is associated with the deceit the movie is trying to pull off but does not really pull off. It is about what the movie actually is underneath its costume. SPOILERS!!!

It is a typical “I’m losing my eyesight but the few special moments before the veil of darkness covers my eyes I spent with you makes me able to live in darkness” story. You may have seen this story line a lot if you liked to watch melodramas during the late 80s and early 90s. You would have had to been alive then too.

The basic plot of the movie is that, because of the superpower, the protagonist is living his last few months before he loses his eyesight and meets his childhood first love. You know that you’re watching a Korean anything when a childhood first love pops into the picture.

This plot is a very cliché plot which has been worn out in Korean entertainment.  However, the movie tries to save the whole “blind” reveal as a last minute twist by adopting a superpower angle. Separate from letting down the audience with what is basically a fake out regarding the whole superpower thing, this creates serious problems with pacing which I’ll go over shortly after.

Making CCTV surveillance stalking as a romantic gesture
The second main conceit is the concept of CCTV surveillance as a means of romance. Seoul, the capital of Korea, is one of the most surveilled cities on the planet. It is not as serious as London but Korea is not a slouch in this matter. Essentially, this movie has the protagonist basically stalk the female lead throughout most the movie using government equipment in plain sight. He even projects his screen on the front large screen in front of everybody working with him. And everyone is fine with him.

This is outright creepy act. However, the movie tries to distort this fact by using two approaches. First, the CCTV command center is populated by cartoonish comedic characters who are basically one of the better parts of the movie. Even though they are 2D, they are fun for the short screen time they have. However, if we are purely only considering the plot, most of them could be editing out. In other words, by making the CCTV command center the wacky comedy central of the movie, the movie avoids getting into the issue of surveillance.

Second, the scenes taken by the CCTVs are framed in a picturesque manner with a pretty woman in the center. None of the scenes viewed through the lens of the CCTV cameras are dark or gloomy. It is as if the CCTV cameras were setup by a top notch photographer. As a matter of fact, the whole movie is well shot in the silky picturesque manner associated with romantic Korean dramas either on the big or small screens.

The word that popped in my head after “Forrest Gump” was photographer. After the initial 20 minutes, I kept trying to remember an old America romance movie about a photographer who met his soul mate a few weeks or so before he would go blind. I have seen that movie somewhere on cable in the 90s or so. But cannot remember what it was called. It may have been a life time channel movie or something.

The CCTV cameras in the movie are basically extensions of the protagonist’s artistic mind which is trying to frame the female lead. The movie nails this home by making the protagonist somewhat of armature painter.

It looks beautiful but I’m getting bored!
The long description of what the movie is finished.
It is a “Forrest Gump” feeling movie in which the protagonist has a fixed dramatic ending that hypes up the melodrama and validates out preconceived need for love to conquer all.

Now, I go over is the movie good. My answer is… maybe? Not terrible… but boring.

The common romance melodrama which includes romcoms have the formula which starts with a meet cute scene. After the couple hooks up, there is a misunderstanding that provides drama. This formula is used for a reason.

While the description of how a couple met may be enough as a cute story you tell at friendly gathering, it is not enough to sustain a whole movie. It is simply boring after telling the same story over and over. The movie “slow video” is like listening to that for 100 minutes.

The movie is essentially 10 minutes of setup, 80 minutes of  the protagonist trying to woe the female lead, 5 minutes of very contrived conflict to wake up the audience, and 5 minute epilogue.  And the middle 80 minutes get tedious fast.

It is a series of beautifully filmed picturesque scenes of the protagonist is doing the following. He is very clumsily talking with the female lead which makes him look that a stalking pervert. He is that literally. He is performing little gestures that could be perceived as cute but are mostly odd and too little. He is stalking the female lead via CCTV cameras at work while everyone watches.

I tend to dislike Korean comedy
Throughout these 80 minutes, nothing really comes out of these scenes. He just acts. The female lead just accepts it when she should not. And nothing really happens. In this way, the movie feels like a slice of life movie which is not great when the movie is intent to have a narrative focus. The slice of life type story telling approach does not really work that well with romance movie as they have a finish line they must cross. In addition, the slice of life type story telling approach needs interesting characters to fill up the screen time. With “Slow Video”, none of the characters, including the side characters, are more than 2 dimensional paper cutouts.  

The movie uses most of the side characters as a platform to insert so called “comedic” gags and events all throughout these 80 minutes of nothing happening. The reason for the quotation signs around the word comedic is because the humor is very Korean specific in which awkwardness is the key word. Korean movies tend to insert this type of comedy into movies that are not comedies and thus create a clashing of tones. It is different from what Americans call dramadies since the comedy is drastically more slapsticky. “Slow Video” is not the exception.

The comedy in “Slow Video” overstays its welcome for several reasons other than the clashing of tones. One thing is that it is used to justify irrational logic behind character behaviors. It does not work. It is just lazy screen writing. Another is that the side comedic actors are actually decent veteran actors who could have done very interesting work if given the chance. However, the movie just wastes them for the most part.

So, the movie has a very very leisurely pace upto the last 10 minutes and nothing really happens between the lead couple. There is no real love developing yet. It is just that the female lead has gotten comfortable with the male lead around at that point. Then the movie rushes to the end with stupid contrived events. Think of the last few minutes of “an affair to remember” (1957) but without the emotional buildup before. What would have happened if the couple in that movie spent the whole time just hanging around in the friend zone? The ending would have not much impact. This is the case for  “Slow Video”.

What did I like?
The cinematography was beautiful. You now the silky way Korean romance movies are shot. It has a lot of illustrated manga like overlays inserted through the movie. It is an attempt to somehow combine the movie medium and the animated that a lot of Korean movies are attempting. While, initially, it was interesting, now it gets old fast. In a way, it is lazy film making as it is trying to supplement emotional expressions which should be capture by the performance of the actors with basic graphics.

Acting wise, the “Cha Tae-Hyun” is basically doing what he always does. At this point, there are no surprising. He is the Korean “Ben Stiller”. While he does what he does well as he has done it for years, the act is just old now. It does not 90% of his dialogue is delivered via voice over. It is not one of the best VO work I’ve seen also.

The female lead, Nam Sang-Mi, is far more interesting as she is like an over the hill manic squirrel. She is the manic pixie dream girl without the “dream” part and a little too old to be “pixie”. And it is rather a joy to watch her on screen. Her chemistry with Cha Tae-Hyun is ok but I think it is just that she is far better than him. At, now point I thought they were in love. But that should not be unexpected as, except for the last 5 minutes or so of the movie, she was not really in love with him.

It is difficult to recommend this movie. While the execution is decent especially in the cinematography, the initial concept of the movie is too flawed. At the end, it is just a very typical Korean romance movie that is somewhat boring albeit a good looking boring and silly romance movie.

Sorry FOX. You made a bad bet. It is only doing just ok in the Korean boxoffice. However, it cost only about $5 million to make. That is chump change for you. 

Score: C 


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