This film convinced me that America doesn't make better movies than other countries. I chose Jakarta at random. It's a Korean movie from the year 2000, so I watched it. I'm not saying it was some kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience, but what it is is an entirely professional, well-made crime caper movie that you could show to anyone in any country and the only clue to its origin would be that the characters are speaking Korean.
Nevertheless it has almost no public profile in the West. It doesn't even have a wikipedia page. Hollywood's greatest weapon, you see, is marketing and brand awareness. These days, it doesn't look so hard to produce product on a par with that of the studios. They'll be spending far more money, but you'll have lower costs, e.g. actors' salaries. Besides, even a relatively overlooked country like South Korea is perfectly capable of splurging out on something like The Good The Bad The Weird
and producing something indistinguishable from a top-end American blockbuster, but better. Obviously there are genres where Hollywood's still at the cutting edge, usually involving SFX, but then again there's at least one genre (the action movie) where for decades the Far East has been at a level of its own.
Of course there will be cultural differences (e.g. France, Bollywood) and nowhere in the world is free of Sturgeon's Law, but the point I'm getting at here is that Jakarta is a polished, well-made film that had it been in English, we'd have all at least heard of and in many cases watched. Unsurprisingly it was in the top ten most successful films in Korea that year.
It's split into two sections. The first involves three sets of robbers who try to knock over the same bank at the same time. This is surprisingly fast-moving, in which one group are a pair of psychos and I was surprised more than once by important characters getting shot. This is good stuff. Admittedly there are also a couple of less interesting henchmen mooching around in the background, having escaped the main pile-up, but they'll end up being important for the plot and only one of them is annoying. It also has a few laughs. "I didn't do anything wrong!" No, you tried to rob a bank. "You didn't even tell me where to send the money!" Things get complicated, then bloody.
The second section begins without warning and takes us back in time to put the robbery in context. That hadn't been the beginning of the real story. People are making plans. You remember I said things had previously got complicated? That's nothing compared with the interweaving webs of what's going on here. I lost the thread a bit with what I presumed were the gangsters to whom the bank manager's son owed gambling debts, but they're not an important part of it. There are further "what the hell?" moments that turned my perceptions on their heads as everyone plans the perfect crime, or as they call it "going to Jakarta". I'm not normally a big fan of crime caper movies and you wouldn't call any of these criminals lovable, but the film kept me watching anyway with its sheer intricacy. The airport scene at the end had me laughing out loud. In the end, I went away happy.
It's one of that wave of crime films around that time with unreliable narrators and/or out-of-sequence plotting, probably kicked off by Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects. Memento
's the other obvious example I've watched recently.
The actors are all good, if one assumes that Se Jun Kim is meant to be annoying. The one with dyed blonde hair is Chang Jung Lim, who I've seen being cited as "the lead of Sex Is Zero". Apparently that's a teen sex comedy with gross-outs and nudity that takes a third-act swing into something much more serious. I might just pick that up.
This is a well-made, watchable film. It's got some dry laughs and a very Korean view of policemen (see also Memories of Murder
). Obviously you'll have to pay attention to keep track of the storyline, but they're working hard to keep everything clear and I never felt at sea. Note for instance the visual depiction of people's planning for the robbery, either with Korean comic strips or else a line of props on a plank which the camera pans along from left to right. That's impressive info-dumping. You'd have to be retarded not to be able to put all that together, despite the complexity of multiple contradictory criminal plans that we know are all about to go wrong.
I wouldn't call this film a must-watch, but it's good and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who likes crime films. Jakarta's the capital of Indonesia, by the way.