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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 03:08 am

Asian buffet

Experience South Korea's film renaissance

Memoirs of a Geisha brings the Asian cinema to America. Well, not exactly — a Hollywood view could never take the place of homegrown product. Why not see an authentic Asian film instead? Now that Asia has supplanted Europe as the dominant foreign influence on American film, that source is essential viewing for anyone curious about world cinema. Asian films have been covered previously here, but this time I’ll shift focus away from the traditional sources — Japan, China, and Hong Kong. South Korea is experiencing a film renaissance, and Memories of Murder (2003), a fact-based thriller about the search for a serial killer, is one of its best exports. Director Bong Joon-ho’s densely detailed police procedural explores the inner turmoil of an investigation that drifts down many dead ends. This is one of the most extraordinary crime thrillers of recent years. Director Kim Ki-duk is clearly South Korea’s rising star, and several of his films can be found in area video stores. His latest DVD release, 3-Iron (2004), is a typically odd drama centering on a young man who breaks into people’s homes. Stealing isn’t his motive, though: Each house serves as his temporary home while the owners are on vacation. Don’t be frightened off by the golf title; 3-Iron is hardly boring. Other available Ki-duk films — Bad Guy (2001), The Coast Guard (2002), Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring (2003), and Samaritan Girl (2004) are also highly recommended. What would Asian cinema be without martial arts? The new chop-socky sensation is the amazing Tony Jaa, who hails from Thailand. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003), Jaa’s acting debut, uses the simple story of a naïve county boy who ventures to the big city to recover a stolen statue as a thread from which to hang a series of mind-boggling fight sequences. Jaa does all of his own stunts, and Ong-Bak is surprisingly well-directed for this type of film. India has the world’s largest movie industry, but relatively few Indian films are seen around here. Bollywood films, as India’s famous musicals are known, can be a hoot. Indian filmmakers have the amazing ability to transform a story in any genre into a musical. Dhund: The Fog (2003) — simply titled The Fog for its DVD release — is an uneasy mix of variety-show buffoonery and graphic violence. The story is complete nonsense, but there is something oddly compelling about its absurdity. This one is strictly for the curious.
New releases on DVD on Tuesday (Jan. 17): Lord of War, Two for the Money, The Man, Underclassman, Venom, Asylum, and Junebug.
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