Phantom Detective (or Detective Hong Gil-Dong: the Vanished Village)

Having been sent on a trip for work, I’ve had a chance to watch some movies, some of which I probably would not otherwise have watched, but Phantom Detective (the Korean title is Detective Hong Gil-Dong: the Vanished Village) is something I probably would have caught on Netflix if I had seen it there.

Phantom Detective is kind of a weird movie, but I have to say that I ended up enjoying it. This is something of a neo-noir with elements of pulp and comedy, and follows the actions of a relatively unsympathetic detective named Hong Gil-Dong, which is the name of a Korean legend very similar to Robin Hood. Oddly enough, at least in translation, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for this connection. Gil-Dong is on the trail of the man who killed his mother, and in this pursuit, he is ruthless, his actions often brutal. He has a character arc, and one that is telegraphed, but which takes a bit longer than I expected.

The movie is set in mid-1980s South Korea, which is an odd choice to me, but I think it is trying to reflect on that period as a liminal age, the transition period between military dictatorship and democracy, when South Korea was gaining affluence and confidence but when it was still undeveloped. There is a secret organization in the movie that maybe intended to represent conservative forces that looked fondly back at the military dictatorship as a time of stability, but which – given the present presidential scandal and the pseudo-religious nature of the fictional organization – seems prescient.

The movie’s tone is incredibly uneven, and the plot surges along mostly because it must. I was aware of these problems watching it, but this actually didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment. I really liked the way the CGI portions were emphasized, somewhat like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a movie which I also very much enjoyed. I don’t know if this was a choice or actually reflects poorly rendered CGI, but it worked for me. This may be because after Sky Captain, I associate this unreal CGI with pulp adventure on screen. I found it endearing rather than annoying.

The main character is interesting in that he’s both very competent but also vulnerable. He’s fine facing down mooks, but also gets his butt handed to him multiple times through the movie. He’s not invincible, and his determination proves both a strength and a weakness. I’m glad the character grows, because at the outset of the movie, while he’s an amusing character, he’s somewhat unsympathetic, at least for me.

I don’t think this is a great movie, but it’s pretty good. I would say that if you have the opportunity to watch it, give it a go. It’s not a movie that I would hunt down to watch again, but if it comes to Netflix, I’ll definitely be checking it out with my wife.

I give Phantom Detective 3.5 waxed paper-wrapped caramels out of 5. Its CGI is evident and its plot and arc pretty pedestrian, but it has charm, interesting ideas, and the main character is certainly engaging.

You can read more about Phantom Detective at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read more about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow at Wikipedia and IMDB.

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My Week That Was, 4 November 2016

Still haven’t read anything for class, but I have been reading David Brin’s blog. He’s the author of the Postman, Earth, and the Uplift series, along with a lot of other stuff. He’s also a smart guy who has some very strong political beliefs, so be ready for it!

I’m still re-reading Count Zero, but this is on the bus during my commute, and for three out of the five days, I’ve instead listened to Govind Sreenivasan’s Europe and the Wars of Religion (1500-1700) lectures from the Great Courses. This course is no longer available, which is a real pity. His discussions of the the Revolt of the Netherlands (1566-1609) directly influenced my work on a new RPG – the Wall. The Wall has taken up a lot of my after work time, and it’s something very different from what I’ve done before.

No gaming happening this week (next Friday I get to enjoy some more gaming as I’m a player in Kieron O’Gorman’s Star Wars campaign using FFG’s system), but I have been doing a lot of thinking and planning for the Wall, which includes running solo scenarios to see how the mechanics work.

My favourite podcast this week was definitely Govind Sreenivasan’s Europe and the Wars of Religion (1500-1700) lectures, but since they aren’t available, I’m going to point to the fantastic War on the Rocks podcast episode about Russia’s nefarious actions involving the present US election.

Every night after my eldest gets to bed, I’ve played an hour or so of Fallout: New Vegas running the mod New Vegas Bounties II. One of my companions is basically zombie Doc Holliday. How is that not awesome?

I hope you had a great week!


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My Week That Was, 28 October 2016

I haven’t read anything for class because I’m in the final week and was doing stuff like writing a final paper, but I have been reading Dr. Andrei Lankov’s discussion of the emigration of ethnic Koreans from Japan to North Korea in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall, but you might be able to read one article for free. Maybe two?

I’ve been re-reading Count Zero. The last time I read it was probably when I was in university, so it feels like I’m reading it for the first time.

I haven’t done any gaming, but I’ve put some spare time into my Sword’s Edge RPG project, Lawless Heaven, a Sword’s Edge adventure inspired by Korean action movies, and a new idea I’m calling the Wall which I’ll write about soon over at SEP.

Favourite podcast listened to this week was In Our Time, talking about the 12th Century Renaissance.

I’ve played less Darkest Dungeons than last week, mostly because I’ve been going to bed earlier and working more on games.

And I hope you had a good week yourself.

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The Tiger

I am always thankful for the relatively good number of Korean films and TV series Netflix Canada has to offer. When I saw The Tiger had arrived, a 2015 movie with one of Korea’s best actors – Choi Min-Sik – I decided that would be my Saturday night. Of course, my wife was on board. She’s also a fan of Mr. Choi.

In this movie, set during Japan’s brutal occupation of Korea in the early 20th century, Choi plays a renowned hunter, now retired and raising his teenage son on his own. The Japanese governor of the region is a big proponent of hunting – with his office festooned with stuffed examples – and wants the last tiger in Korea killed. In translation, the reason for this is hazy, but it likely has something to do with breaking Korean pride – Korea sometimes links itself to the tiger. In any case, this sets in motion a series of events leading to the promised confrontation of man and animal within the beautiful but brutal precincts of Jiri Mountain.

As a fan and owner of a DVD copy of The Ghost and the Darkness, I went into this with some expectations. Don’t do that. This is a great movie, a really enjoyable experience, but it is a fable. This movie creates a myth. Whereas The Ghost and the Darkness tried to show the terror of nature at it is, the Tiger shows the majesty of nature as many in Korea understood it. There is an  indigenous shamanic belief system/religion which I understand to posit every living thing has a spirit, and one must view this movie with that in mind. I attended a couple of celebrations of mountain gods when I lived in Korea, but my knowledge of the actual belief system is nil, so I’m probably misrepresenting this and for that I apologize.

This movie is as much opera as it is cinema. The tiger acts as no real tiger would, and I saw the “Mountain Lord” – as he is known – as an embodiment of the spirit of the mountain. Is this an allusion, a meditation on pride, despair, and expectation? Sure, or it’s Jaws on a mountain with a tiger instead of a shark. However, whereas the terror of Jaws was in its unthinking, unfeeling antagonist, the Tiger presents nature personified. Think of what we’ve done to it and you might not be surprised that nature is pissed.

I enjoyed this movie for Choi’s amazing performance (pretty much a given), the great locale (my wife and I visited Jirisan in February, just before we got married), and the willingness of the director to provide a moving tale that has a wealth of meaning and thought swimming below the surface. If you want to watch a movie about a super-tiger and the tired old man who may be the only one who can kill it, enjoy! If you want to meditate about the subtext, there’s plenty here to chew on.

I give the Tiger 4.75 tooth and claw fodder foot soldiers out of 5. This is a great looking, pensive movie with streaks of violence and emotion and a stellar cast. This is a definite recommend, especially if you love thoughtful movies, exciting movies, and bombastic movies. This one’s got all that.

You can find out more The Tiger at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can find out more about The Ghost and the Darkness at Wikipedia and IMDB.

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My Week That Was, 21 October 2016

The best thing I read for class this week was Thomas Fingar’s Reducing Uncertainty, all about the role of intelligence analysis.

I’ve been reading Hyena Road, the novelization of the Paul Gross movie I have not yet seen.

I ran some Sword’s Edge in the campaign I’m calling the Nor’Westers, which uses Western themes and tropes for an adventure set in 1810 along the North West Company’s fur trade route into Canada’s interior.

Favourite podcast listened to this week has to be the Slate Political Gabfest discussing – who could have guessed – the US election, although regular host John Dickerson wasn’t on it.

I’ve actually played about 30 minutes to an hour of computer games a couple of nights after I finish my coursework. I feel guilty, but generally I’m too tired to do anything more productive. This week, I played Darkest Dungeon. Kind of hooked.

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The New Normal

This is a bit of a personal post as well as a kind of situation report. Those of you following me on G+ are probably aware that my family bought a new house. We moved in on 9 Sep and it’s a massive change from what we used to live in. It’s a real house in a real neighbourhood and we’ve already established pretty good relations with almost all our neighbours. The school isn’t as good as the last one (for those in the Ottawa region, Agincourt Public School is superior to Barrhaven Public School in most measures, at least from our experience). This is something we can help to change if we get involved, otherwise we are just whiners.

The big difference is finances. We have gone from being able to pretty much spend however we want to requiring a very tight budget. The finances are in, and based on all indicators, we’re going to be just scraping by and probably significantly dipping into our savings. Now, this will change because I am in line for a couple of raises (waiting for a contract to be signed and then a statutory increase in a year’s time) so this is a temporary matter, but it is something that has created some stress.

What this means is that until our finances change, I’ll only be buying beer on special occasions. I won’t be backing Kickstarters any longer. I won’t be able to pocket-finance projects. I won’t be buying any games, any comics, or really much of anything. Some of this I could have avoided, but I’d rather cut down on my consumption than stop our charitable donations, which aren’t sizeable, but amount to pretty much half of my discretionary spending for a month.

This has a direct effect on my involvement in the RPG community: no conventions except for Breakout Con to which I’ve already committed, but that will be it at least for the next few years. Production at SEP is going to take a hit as I don’t have the time to run Kickstarters when I am studying for a masters (and I may be put on French language training through my job) and I won’t have the money to invest in art, editing, layout, etc.

This is unwelcome but not terrible. We’re looking at a horizon of about three years. At that point, we won’t be exactly back to where we were, but we’ll be pretty far ahead and I’ll be back to having some money in my pocket.

So, if you see some changes, you know why. I’ll still be around virtually and I’ll still be gaming, but what I do and how I do it might change.

Just so you know.

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13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

After a day of pool-closing and hedge-trimming, I had some hours and decided to take a break from Luke Cage – which my wife isn’t watching yet – to watch 13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

I’m not going to comment on the politics of the movie, but it is a bit difficult to ignore them, given the proximity of the event. There are a lot of similarities between this movie and Black Hawk Down, but Black Hawk Down was a decade away from the event and didn’t touch on the main political disagreement from it – the pullout after the release of CW3 Michael Durant.

Instead, what I’d like to comment on is that in Black Hawk Down, every character death – and this does not include the Somalis, except for a particular scene with a father and son that actually made an impact – was significant. I don’t know if Michael Bay was trying to make his own Black Hawk Down, but given the similarity of some of the scenes (the chaotic drive through the middle of a hostile city, the medical triage scene, the philosophizing just before going back into the heat of battle) I tend to think he was. The deaths in 13 Hours that were supposed to be so emotional lacked any real strength. No real effort had been put into making these characters human, only superhuman – having a wife and kids doesn’t a great character make.

Michael Bay will never be Ridley Scott, but even Scott is uneven and performs poorly when he has a poor script. The script for Black Hawk Down – also based on a book with the participation of those involved in the event – was a lot stronger than that for 13 Hours. Bay’s usual pyrotechnic display cannot save the movie, especially when everything else is in such broad strokes. The good guys are completely good, the bad guys are moustache-twirlers, and the bureaucrats are complete idiots who are also complete assholes.

The action is fine, but frankly Strike Back does it better on a lot smaller budget. Strike Back is also better at characterization . . . unless one is speaking of women or minorities, but I’ve made that complaint elsewhere.

I give 13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi 2.5 jugs of oddly flammable diesel out of 5. Mediocre action and cardboard characters make this poorly scripted bulletfest a poor choice unless you are a Bay-fan or looking to add fuel to your Benghazigate fire.

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