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Antarctic Journal

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Posted 6th May 2009 at 03:17 PM by Philleh

How can I describe my love for Kong Sang-ho? The poster I have of him in my living room doesnít do it justice. He is, for me, one of the greatest actors working in the world - period. He comes from the same theatre troupe that gave us the equally talented Choi Min-Shik (Old Boy), whoís finally finished protesting for the treatment theatre actors receive from the big boys in the Korean film industry: He stopped acting for some time, so itís great to actually have him start acting again Ė even if his return was a low-budget indie movie about a Korean man in Nepal!

Most people know Song-ho through the phenomenal Memories of Murder, which I could gush about for the rest of eternity Ė but wonít! What makes him so special is his comedic ability, the man could give the funniest comedians a run for their money; those who have seen the excellent Foul King will know this already. Usually when he is in a villainous role, he plays a dim-witted gangster such as Green Fish or No. 3, but here in Antarctic Journal he was given a chance to play a bad guy role with heart: courtesy of Bong Joon-ho the writer/director of Memories of Murder and The Host.

A group of six Korean explorers are at the start of a huge mission, to reach the ĎPoint of Inaccessibility (P.O.I): an area of Antarctica that no other extradition has made it to. There only link to civilisation is a radio operator who they check in with at the end of a days walk. She then broadcasts their news to the Korean people. When we first join them it proves to be a lucky day as the youngest member of the team (Yoo Ji-Tae Ė Old boy) almost falls down a sudden break of ice, rescued by the trusty captain (Hong Sang-ho). Back in the tent they are settled down to tell her all about the excitement, while the captain stays out side taking in the Antarcticís beautiful scenery.

Cut to a few days later and the pack discover the remains of a flag that was left by a British expedition back in 1922, realising that it looks more like a grave stone of sorts, they dig under the pole. They discover the journal of the last team to have attempted the walk. Itís in a poor state but they are able to make out a few pages here and there. Later that night one of the team flick through the journal looking at the drawings, shocked to see that one picture has a similarity with their captain. Things take a turn for the weird when we see an eye appear in their food, unseen by the crew who continue eating away. As more and more days of constant daylight pass, more strange occurrences follow: hands coming out from the snow in pictures and stuff of that ilk.

Tension within the group hits its peak once one of the team comes down with what can alone be described as the flu, in a virus-free zone like Antarctica the team are truly baffled and infuriated by the effect his condition is having on their progress, the captain more so and tells the youngest guy to stay at the back and keep an eye on him: but be subtle as to not damage his pride. The shit hits the fan a little later as a white-out comes and looses the injured man and knocks out the youngster. Once again this resembles an incident in the British Journal, at the same point they appeared to loose a man also.

If that wasnít bad enough a couple of the team get into a fight, while they fight a mysterious little hole appears in the snow. Naturally one of the members stumbles on to it and it opens up and swallows him. Luckily he lands on a small ledge as the other throw down rope and attempt to bring him back up. The captain however, suffering a flash back to his sons suicide, asks if the man is hurt, he replies that he is, the captain lets go of the rope killing the other member. Paranoia and confusion reaches fever pitch once they stumble upon a wood cabin, after some sabotage (by the hands of the captain) renders most of the electrical equipment useless, once there all truths will be revealed.

So you have two of the biggest stars in South Korean cinema, one of the most talented writer/directors on board, your filming it on location in the Antarctic and above all your lovely little horror/thriller has been given a BUDGET! You would think with all of this that Antarctic Journal would be the film to die for. Alas itís stunningly mediocre. Hong Sang-ho is the only reason this film didnít fall into two star material, his performance as the tragic Captain will have you hooked, his steady decline into insanity is executed perfectly and youíll actually find yourself rooting for him over the other clichťd stock characters. Finding out about his past and why he is so driven in reaching the P.O.I is the most engaging aspect of the story.

After the first forty-minutes the film seems to hit a wall, the beauty of the surroundings wear-off and some of the nagging characters will grate on your nerves; youíll be begging for them to stop breathing. Some of the horror aspects are handled amateurishly, with no reason given for what the hell the eye in their food is or indeed the hands that emerge from snow in a photo: no one sees it but the audience, so we can rule out character dementia! The only scene of a phantom apparition that makes sense is the vision of the Hong Sang-hoís dead son.

Technically, this film is very well made. The opening helicopter shot through the clouds and down over some gorgeous glaciers onto the six explores is beautiful and with Kenji Kawaiís beautiful score (very John Carpenter) playing over it, my expectations had been set at a high standard within the first five minutes. Too bad the story couldnít have had the same loving attention to detail the visuals had. Editing is also a problem later on, maybe they tried to help us relate with the confusion felt by the characters, but it just becomes a head ache. Towards the end you will be begging for these characters to have name signs so you know who is who and what they are doing. Those goggles and big coats make it a nightmare identifying characters when they are all wearing similar colours!!

I canít see this film getting much of a release outside of Korea, but worse films have seen the light of day *cough* Typhoon *cough*, if youíre a fan of the great Hong Sang-ho then itís required viewing. His ability seems to have no end, with this and Presidents Barber (where he plays a Forest Gump type character) not likely to be seen anytime soon, I would suggest fans import them as he is amazing in both and worth your money alone. I would love to see him in an English language movie, but Iím afraid of what would happen to him, he deserves more than the treatment that he will no doubt receive. Much like what happened to poor old Chow Yun Fat, itís a fate he should best avoid.

The DVD is a beautiful looking piece, as is the norm with Korean DVDs; itís just too damn bad that they donít add English subtitles to the extras! Iím sure the second disc is full of goodness, but Iím afraid my Korean sucks, so canít offer much more than that.

Directed by:
Im Pil-sung

Cast:
Hong Sang-ho
Yoo Ji Tae

Recommendations: R-Point & The Thing
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