“Secret Reunion”: A blockbuster with brains.

“Secret Reunion”: A blockbuster with brains. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

We’ve been subjected to so many dumb domestic blockbusters in recent years — movies that don’t so much entertain as lull you into a mildly pleasurable state of waking brain death — that we’re in danger of forgetting that these films can (and, really, are supposed to) also be about something.

Hollywood still has easiest access to enormous budgets and cutting edge special effects, but all of that pales in comparison to good old-fashioned thoughtful storytelling of the kind in NYAFF selection “Secret Reunion.” This film fulfills all the requirements of a summer movie — fine action sequences, superb plot twists, deadpan humor — but never at the expense of its intelligence.

The story is a hodgepodge of a few different genres, primarily buddy cop movies and Cold War espionage thrillers. In a lengthy prologue we meet South Korean Agent Lee (“The Host”‘s Song Kang-ho), on the hunt for Northern spies. He’s closing in on the elusive and ruthless assassin Shadow (Jeon Gook-hwan) and his more humane associate Ji-Won (Kang Dong-won) when a bust goes wrong. Lee takes the blame and loses his job; Ji-Won loses the respect of Shadow and gets left out in the cold. When we meet the characters again years later, Lee’s making his living bounty hunting runaway mail-order brides and Ji-Won’s in construction. A chance meeting brings them back together, and Lee convinces Ji-Won to come work for him.

06252010_secret2.jpgThat’s when “Secret Reunion” really begins to cook: Lee and Ji-Won both know who the other really is but neither knows that the other knows, an elegant setup for some juicy cat-and-mouse interrogation scenes between the two charismatic leads.

Even as their dance of suspicion and deflection drives the narrative through some taut chase and fight sequences (including a particularly good one in which the pair take on an angry mob in dreamlike slow-motion) director Hun Jang simultaneously investigates the incredibly complex feelings Koreans on either side of the border feel for one another: that sense of patriotism and brotherhood tinged with mutual suspicion and dread.

It isn’t simply that the moral issues at stake — how far, for instance, someone should be willing to go out of loyalty to their country — are so much richer than most comparable American studio fare. They also make the ultra-suspenseful final showdown between Lee and Ji-Won better. Since the film refuses to paint either man with the broad brush of good or evil, the ultimate outcome of their battle is impossible to predict.

Instead of vapid escapism, “Secret Reunion” confronts Korean viewers with harsh facts of their day-to-day reality; television sets that dot the production design constantly remind us of North Korea’s latest nuclear developments. Any American blockbuster that tried to do the same would be signing its own box office death warrant (see the recent “Green Zone”).

But the “Secret Reunion” page on the NYAFF website says that the film has been the highest grossing Korean film of 2010. Good for discerning Korean audiences, and good for American audiences, who’ve got a chance next weekend to see how mainstream filmmaking should be done.

“Secret Reunion” does not yet have US distribution. It plays Friday, July 2 at 7:30 and Saturday, July 3 at 2:10 at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City.

[Photos: “Secret Reunion,” Showbox, 2010]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.