Sunday, December 28, 2014

Korean Christmas

Korean Jesus is a character in 21 Jump Street. Korean Christmas is something we inadvertently celebrated at my house this year.

First it was watching Snowpiercer, directed by South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho, on Christmas Eve. Then it was starting the Korean-financed animated movie The Nut Job, which includes an animated version of K-Pop star Psy, to wile away Christmas afternoon with the kids. (I finished it the next morning.) Then finally, on Christmas night, we demonstrated solidarity in our fight against oppressive dictatorships by renting The Interview, perpetrating our own type of "hacking" by using a VPN to convince Youtube Movies that we were actually in the United States.

I've already written about Snowpiercer and I hardly think it's worth spending much of my breath on one of the five worst animated movies I've ever seen, so that frees me up to spend the lion's share of this post on the most buzzed about movie of the past two weeks: The Interview. Before doing that, though, I'll give my standard coincidence disclaimer: We only ever intended to watch one of these three movies within a space of 36 hours, and I didn't even know The Nut Job was Korean until the closing credits.

That's right, we originally had a favorite lined up to watch on Christmas night (Perfume: The Story of a Murder, Anonymous and Elf were all discussed), but then Sony continued a very successful campaign to save face by making their controversial film The Interview available on a variety of online rental platforms. There was no way we were not going to do our share to strike a blow at the heart of North Korea -- and I'm glad to say that we survived the screening without a single threat to our lives.

We were only planning to watch it as a part of an international campaign to thumb our noses at the North Koreans, though. Bad early buzz on the film had convinced us that it wasn't going to be very shrewd or funny. I was excited to see it, but mostly in the same way I'd be excited to get my hands on any contraband material. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. (In terms of year-end lists, I was also excited to have early access to a movie that won't be available in Australian theaters until January 22nd, meaning I had already written it off for inclusion on my 2014 list.)

And then we both laughed harder than we had laughed at any movie in years.

Seriously, I think I might have laughed over 50 times during this movie. It was one of those instances of comedic syzygy, where every choice Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg made seemed to be a brilliant one, and the cumulative effect just put us both into a delirium of enjoyment. Oh, this is not highbrow. But it's the best lowbrow comedy I've seen in ages, and it has an overall highbrow rationale behind its existence.

Part of my lowered expectations had to do with a cynicism over Rogen's reason for making the movie in the first place. When I heard that Sony had scrapped the Christmas release of The Interview (but before realizing that they may not release it theatrically at all), I quickly wrote up a reaction that I never published. I'm glad now that I didn't publish it, because the thrust of the piece was that Rogen may have deserved this for making the movie in bad faith. I had this idea that he came up with the idea through a haze of weed smoke as a way simply to fuck with North Korea, because there was nothing they could do about it and fuck them. And so when I learned that North Korea did plan to do something about it, and that something was successful, I honestly though it was part of Rogen's just desserts. Not because I didn't believe in freedom of expression, but because I thought Rogen's motivations were essentially juvenile.

Having seen the movie, I disagree wholeheartedly that it was made on a lark. Rogen and Goldberg clearly did their research. The sets look terrific, and like a good approximation of what the Kim compound probably really looks like. The characters are written with real complexity, as the film does not contain a single two-dimensional bad guy. Kim himself is one of the film's most complicated characters, though ultimately, he is indeed revealed to be a genuine bastard. For a while, though, Rogen and Goldberg seduce us into thinking he could be someone a lot more sympathetic than we assume him to be.

The Interview is a combination of smart and dumb humor, committed performances, and a real sense of political intention.

If you haven't already done so, make this a Korean Christmas season in your household as well.

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