Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Priest; let the Koreans do their own adaptations

Post-apocalyptic vampires! What's not to love? I saw the trailer for this thing when I was waiting for True Grit to start, and it looked like an economy sized bag of dumb fun.

Instead it was a lesson in how culture works best on its own terms. Priest was adapted from a Korean comic book, and from what I can figure out, they got pretty simple minded about it. The original Korean strip was a fairly complex thing for a comic book, with an elaborate backstory and a plot which was at least in part a meditation on the somewhat tricky history of Catholicism in Korea. The movie was optioned in the US and as nearly as I can tell the adapter went from "Hey, aren't these kind of like vampires?" to "What the hell, people like vampires!", and jettisoned the whole plot of the source material in favor of a bunch of fight scenes and a vision of vampires which owes far too much to the Will Smith version of I Am Legend and not anything like enough to anything I can take seriously.

If, like me, you're something of a fan of the essential wrongness of Korean cinema, there's something particularly heart breaking about watching Americans getting a Korean source text completely wrong. One of the most interesting things about Korean cinema is that it's working from a completely different view of the world than American cinema. This can lead to some pretty wrenching moments, but that's part of the fascination. One of the best recent Korean movies in the horror genre is The Host. It's fascinating not just because it's full of doubt about the price South Korea has paid for US sponsorship, but because it dares to kill the children who in American movies would get a completely unrealistic free pass from the mortal risks of being in same town as Godzilla. The same cold-eyed acceptance of real impact is in play for The Chaser. But if you want to see Korean cinema amped to the max of sheer lunacy and living in its own peculiar dream world, I recommend The Good the Bad and the Weird, a partial reimagining of the Good the Bad and the Ugly set in a Wild West version of Japan's invasion of Manchuria and Korean in the 1930s. It is utterly insane while being tremendously entertaining as a pure action movie.

I was thinking of all of these things, but especially the Good the Bad and the Weird, when I watched Priest, because so much of the action in both movies involves laconic archetypal characters running around in a trackless desert chasing a train. Fair warning; GBW is not just far more fun, it's a better movie on the same lines. In fact, that's your take home from the whole post, really. Priest is being discounted and will be discounted more; but for the same price you can have a hell of a lot more fun watching an entirely Korean trains and maniacs in the wilderness movie, unpolluted by pesky western ideas of watchability. So, buy that instead.

Still spare a thought for the likes of Paul Bettaney and Karl Urban. When he's not working for raw cash from the knuckledragging morons who produce things like Priest, Bettaney's an actual actor, playing characters and stuff. In this kind of crap, he's like a poor man's Nic Cage. A very poor man's Nic Cage. All you can hope for is that the money was good; I'm sure that he has bills to pay, or at least lorryloads of booze to wipe out the memories of making movies like this one.  Similarly poor old Karl Urban, a perfectly good actor with a perfectly not quite perfect face who's been chunking out villain and a bit roles since Bourne Nonsense-ology II with some time off to ply (WTF?) Dr McCoy in the new Star Trek. Playing a vampire lord not all that terribly removed from the redneck idiot villain of last night's moron fest Drive Angry can't have made him feel good about himself no matter how much they paid him.

Usually something like this has me thinking that there might have been some brains somewhere in the mix, but honestly, watching its vision of a world where vampires are real and the Catholic Church (or a cheap copy) is the only thing which can beat them, either in the war or at being just plain evil, my principal response was; next time, let the Koreans have the money and run with their ideas. Because outsiders are just going to make a pile of mush.

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