HKMDB Daily News

August 3, 2013

Mr. Go (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 2:24 pm

Mr. Go

Maggie Lee

A Korean baseball team overcomes its losing streak by signing a gorilla in this technically impressive but under-dramatized 3D feature.

A 3D baseball film that flouts all sabermetrics, “Mr. Go” depicts how a Korean team overcomes its losing streak by signing a gorilla. The achievement of this Korean-Chinese co-production is primarily a technical one, rendering a bat-swinging primate that’s adorably lifelike and anchors the well-wrought action setpieces. Still, considering how out-of-left-field the concept is, one wishes helmer Kim Yong-hwa had run more recklessly with the idea, which might have generated more mayhem and a deeper sense of human-creature bonding. Although audiences don’t give a monkey about the pic in Korea (where it’s been billed as that country’s first film fully shot in 3D), it’s been a hit in China, scoring about $17.6 million in 15 days.

Showbox/Mediaplex and mainland partner Huayi Brothers reportedly spent $12 million of their estimated $25 million budget on developing visual effects. The payoff is the creation of not one but two gorillas with distinct physical features and personalities, culminating in a showdown that deviates from the traditional man-vs.-beast endings of films like “King Kong.”

The story originated from Korean artist Heo Young-man’s 1984 comic “The Seventh Team,” but Kim (“200 Pounds Beauty”) eschews cartoonish humor and spontaneity, instead adopting a dramatic realist mode. Yet the decision to shift the protagonists’ background to China, made to fulfill market requirements, results in an artificial feel and several calculated contrivances, such as a reference to the Wenchuan Earthquake.

Gorilla Lingling is raised in a Chinese circus and coached to play baseball as a tentpole act by Weiwei (Josie Xu), the adopted granddaughter of ringmaster Zhao (Byun Hee-bong). To raise the game, Zhao acquires mountain gorilla Leiting to make him a pitcher; however, the violently inclined Leiting can’t be tamed. After Zhao passes away, Weiwei, hounded by loan shark Lin Xiaogang (Kim Hie-won) to pay her grandpa’s debts, moves the troupe to the Sino-Korean border town of Yanbian, where Lingling is scouted by Sung Choong-soo (Sung Dong-il), manager of the Doosan Bears, a South Korean baseball team.

Up to this point, it’s hard to warm to either Lingling or Weiwei, as their upbringing is recounted perfunctorily in the form of a promo reel masterminded by Sung. Curiously absent are episodes showing how Lingling learns to bat, certainly the yarn’s most fascinating point. Nor does Lin, played as a whiny buffoon by Kim, appear threatening enough to rouse sympathy for the circus’ plight.

Things pick up once the duo arrives in Seoul, and Lingling, renamed Mr. Go, steps up to the plate at Samjik Stadium. While the 3D effects are discreetly used elsewhere, they are boldly and adroitly employed during the games, making Mr. Go’s strikes and homeruns reverberate beyond the screen. A scene of the gorilla running amok benefits from the dexterity of the camerawork by lensers Park Hyun-cheol and Jeon Dae-seong, as well as from the vivid CG detailing of facial expressions and body movements.

Nevertheless, the film’s emotional pull remains weak, as the screenplay barely observes the players’ reactions to their new recruit or generates a sense of team camaraderie as Lingling helps the downtrodden Bears climb up in the league rankings. Likewise, there’s little dramatic heft to Sung’s abrupt transformation from reviled “bounty hunter,” selling off ace players, to Lingling and Weiwei’s selfless benefactor.

Xu, who’s acted alongside computer-generated creatures in “CJ7″ (2008) and “Starry, Starry Night” (2011), is comfortable performing with simulated simians. However, the 16-year-old thesp appears awkward and emotionally disengaged, allowing Sung Dong-ill’s shrill perf to upstage hers.

Sung ends up hogging more screentime than his role deserves, though his hijinks supply the film’s rare moments of laugh-out-loud silliness, as when his rare botanical collection becomes Lingling’s high-fiber diet, or in a quintessentially Korean scene of them bonding over rice wine and kimchi. Joe Odagiri, cast for his popularity in Korea, gives a campy turn as the president of Japan’s Chunichi Dragons; sporting a pudding-bowl haircut that becomes a running gag, he slyly reveals a calculating streak beneath his foppish eccentricity.

Tech credits are slick, but snappier editing would have set a jauntier mood and tightened the sprawling 135-minute running time. Music by Lee Jae-hak employs songs by Dire Straits and Taiwanese crooner Teresa Tang to tongue-in-cheek effect.

Reviewed at UA KK Mall, Shenzhen, China, July 25, 2013. Running time: 135 MIN. Original titles: “Mi-seu-teo Geo” (South Korea), “Da ming xing” (China)

(South Korea-China) A Showbox/Mediaplex (in South Korea)/Huayi Brothers Media (in China) release and presentation of a Dexter Films production in association with the Vastness. (International sales: Showbox/Mediaplex, Seoul.) Produced by Victor Choung, Park Sung-june. Executive producers, You Jeong-hun, Wang Zhonglei. Co-producer, Mickey Kim.

Directed by Kim Yong-hwa. Screenplay, Kim, Kim Jong-hyun, Kim Hyun-chul, based on the comic by Heo Young-man. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Park Hyun-cheol, Jeon Dae-seong; editor, Zino Kim, Kim Yong-hwa; music, Lee Jae-hak; production designer, Yang Hong-sam; art director, A.M. Kim, Yoon Jun-shik; costume designer, Chae Kyung-hwa; sound (Dolby Digital), Lee Sung-jin; special makeup, Hwang Hyo-kyun; special effects supervisor, Hong Jang-pyo; special effects, Effect Storm; visual effects supervisor, Jung Sung-jin, Lim Jung-hoon; visual effects, Dexter Digital, Digital Intermediate, Filmwiz, Kinomotive Studio, Madman Post, Triton Pix Digital, 10 FX; action choreographer, Hong Eui-jung; creature leader, Oh Ki-hong; S3D stereographer, Kim Jae-ho, Jeon Dae-seong; assistant director, Kim Hyun-chul.

Josie Xu, Sung Dong-il, Joe Odagiri, Kim Hie-won, Byun Hee-bong, Kim Kang-woo, Kim Jung-tae, Ryu Hyun-jin, Choo Shin-soo. (Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, English dialogue)

July 15, 2013

Mr. Go (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 8:15 pm

Mr. Go

14 July, 2013
By Jason Bechervaise

Though lacking a strong footing in a sensible script, Mr. Go has enough swing to it thanks to an endearing and captivating computer generated leading character known as Ling Ling - a gorilla with a gift for hitting home runs one after another - marking a milestone in Korean cinema through its jaw-dropping visuals that is bound to attract audiences of all ages when it goes on release in South Korea on the July 17. On the international stage meanwhile, it’s also set to make its mark in other Asian territories, especially China when it goes on release there on at least 5,000 screens a day after its local release (July 18).

Budgeted at $22.5 million the film comes with a significant risk for a Korean film, but with Chinese investment from Huyai Brothers Company accounting for approximately a quarter of the film’s budget, there is a tangible emphasis on the Chinese market. This can be seen through the casting of popular Chinese actress Xu Jiao (2011’s Starry Starry Night), along with its dialogue, which is a combination of Korean and Mandarin that may prove to be essential to the film’s success.

Director Kim Yong-hwa, however, is also careful not to shift all the focus on China as evident through the film’s emphasis on baseball itself that includes cameos from current South Korean baseball stars (Ryu Hyun-jin & Choo Sin-soo) as well as the inclusion of real teams such as the Doosan Bears (a popular team based in Seoul). Crucially, Kim has managed to capture much of the excitement found in the game which is very popular in Korea and replicated it on screen to extraordinary effect.

Based on the classic comic 7th Baseball Club written by Heo Young-man between 1985-87, the film adaptation follows a Chinese 15-year old ringmaster called Wei Wei (Xu Jiao) and her 285kg (628-pound) bat-swinging gorilla (Ling Ling).

After Wei Wei’s grandfather who is her only relative dies in the 2008 Great Sichuan Earthquake leaving vast amounts of debt, she has no choice but to accept a Korean sport agent’s offer (played by Sung Dong-il) to bring Ling Ling to Korea to play baseball for the Doosan Bears so she can save the circus she runs in China and the orphans that inhabit it. Ling Ling otherwise known as Mr. Go becomes an instant hit with the fans, but the gorilla and Wei Wei soon encounter unexpected troubles.

While the film’s noticeable flaws in its script are slightly less pronounced in the first half, as the film becomes increasingly schmaltzy through a number of unnecessary amateurish supporting roles, it’s more challenging to overlook its faults, but Kim’s melodramatic narrative traits as evident in his previous films including 200 Pounds Beauty (2006) and Take Off (2009) have made his features very successful at the box office. Both these films collectively amassed 15 million admissions (approx $88m) locally.

In terms of its visuals, it’s impossible to not acknowledge what Kim and the VFX supervisor Jung Sung-jin have achieved here through Kim’s production company’s own VFX studio Dexter Digital. Ling Ling together with a second gorilla called Lei-Ting who later comes onto the baseball field to also compete have been crafted with a staggering amount of clarity together with copious amounts of emotion and character. When these gorillas, especially Ling Ling who is the first leading character ever to be solely created by VFX in Korean live-action cinema get onto the field, the spectacle is exhilarating, which is further strengthened by its strong adoption of stereoscopic 3D - the first Korean film to be shot in this format – without taking it too far.

Xu is adorable as the 15-year old girl even though she is rather bland at times and Sung Dong-il is more than adequate as the materialist but amusing sports agent, but it’s Ling Ling who steals the show with his undeniable presence both in aptitude and charm. .

With its potentially wide demographic – from younger viewers to older generations – Mr. Go is set to exploit the summer box office window in its local market of Korea, while also holding strong prospects in other Asian territories beginning with China before being released in other parts of Asia including Indonesia, Hong Kong and India in August and September.

Production Company: Contents Eye & Dexter Studios

International Sales: Showbox/Mediaplex, inc,

Producers: Yoo Jin-woo

Screenplay: Kim Yong-hwa, Kim Hyun-chul, Kim Jong-hyun.

VFX Supervisor: Jung Sung-jin

Main cast: Xu Jiao, Sung Dong-il, Kim Kang-woo, Kim Hee-won Kim Jung-tae, Kim Eung-soo, Byun Hee-bong, Joe Odagiri

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