Thursday, December 27, 2007

Before The Devil Knows Your Dead


In 1970, Sidney Lumet said, “If you’re a director, then you’ve got to direct…. I don’t believe that you should sit back and wait until circumstances are perfect before you and it’s all gorgeous and marvelous…. I never did a picture because I was hungry…. Every picture I did was an active, believable, passionate wish. Every picture I did I wanted to do…. I’m having a good time.”
Subsequently Mr. Lumet, in a statement posted on IMDB, said, “If I don't have a script I adore, I do one I like. If I don't have one I like, I do one that has an actor I like or that presents some technical challenge. With Before The Devil Knows Your Dead Mr. Lumet had all of it: great script and actors, and a technical challenge. He shot the movie in HD, and until you read the credits at the end, you believe you’re watching film. “Anything you can do with film, I can do with HD,” Mr.Lumet proudly stated upon completing the film. Another triumph for this great America director, 83 years of age, but obviously young at heart.

Lumet, God bless him, has been directing since 1953, earning his chops the same time television was, doing shows like Danger, I Remember Mama and You Are There. He would move on to direct about 200 teleplays for Playhouse 90, Studio One, and Kraft Television Theater—the “Golden Age of Television”--establishing himself as one of the most prolific and talented directors of the small screen, specializing in intimate, intense, character driven, social realist dramas. Directing in black and white on a low budget, he capitalized on close-ups and medium shots on constricted sets to forge an intense, intimate mise en scene which would become his visual signature, and which would serve him exquisitely well in his subsequent, brilliant film career.

Directing small-scale also compelled Lumet to work closely with his actors exploiting rehearsals to prepare them for rapid production. Lumet, because of these factors, is often accused of working carelessly. Nonetheless he has garnered four Academy Award Nominations for Best Director. Actors know he deserved at least that many. Ethan Hawke, on a recent Charlie Rose show, cited Lumet as one of the few directors he has worked with who understands an actor’s process and language. His exceptional ability to draw high-quality, sometimes extraordinary performances is proven by seventeen acting nominations from his movies, four of who went on to win. The tight schedule focuses the mind, keeping them in the moment.

They portray Lumet protagonists whose passion and intensity threaten to devour them. They could be difficult, driven by an unyielding superego, like Al Pacino’s Serpico (1973), whose incorruptibility and disgust with police practices unleashed a Mayoral investigation into police corruption. Sometimes they are already devoured when we first meet them, as in Dog Day Afternoon (1975), where the Al Pacino character is, this time, a desperate bank robber who wants to get his ex-boyfriend a sex change operation.

Perhaps Lumet’s most complex protagonist is Bob Leuci, played with the just the right amount of narcissism by Treat Williams. Prince of the City (1981) is to BFP Lumet’s masterpiece, and easily the best movie about American criminal justice yet made. Not fully appreciated by the critics and the public possibly because it is so unrelentingly honest and scathing in its panorama of the way justice is negotiated, not unlike getting a birds-eye view of how sausage is made.
The film presents Leuci’s journey as a tragic odyssey through a labyrinth. Leuci presided over an elite group of undercover cops given wide legal latitude to apprehend the drug dealers running rampant in the frontier New York of the seventies. The leeway granted them proved too much and instead of being the solution, their corrupt actions became part of the problem.
Leuci, probably for reasons he himself still doesn’t fully understand, stemming from a hash of righteousness, guilt, self-destructiveness and self-hate cooperated with a New York State special investigation of his unit, ultimately resulting in scores of indictments of his colleagues, including one detective’s suicide. Leuci, who obviously thought he knew the system as well as anyone, discovers it’s even worse; faceless and corrupt, lumbering along in “a nightmare of moral ambiguity that is indistinguishable from madness,” (Richard Schickel in his review of Prince of the City for Time Magazine) driven by ugly trade-offs, betrayals, and trickery. Leuci too late realizes that he can’t prevent, as he thought he could, the avalanche of arraignments ensnaring his buddies. Often those closest to the flames are the most naïve, how else would they be able to keep functioning?

How criminal justice operates, not only in New York, but also throughout Western nations (Consider The Hill (1965)or The Offence (1973) for instance.) is one of two Lumet signature preoccupations. Before the Devil Knows Your Dead deals with the second.

Beginning with Phillip Seymour Hoffman fucking his wife, the luscious Marisa Tomei (She remains one of the most beautiful women in movies: Sensual lips, dark eyes, black hair, and a disarmingly infectious smile.), while vacationing in Rio, Mr. Lumet certainly has our complete attention. “I’d love to live like this,” she says. Their subsequent dialog leads us to suspect good sex doesn’t happen often for them. Even before the first scene in Manhattan, one suspects it’s about New Yorkers, Lumet characters, like Scorsese’s, live and breathe New York’s edginess and energy.

Lumet pieces the early sequences together with a Tarentino flashback style going back and forth to and from a robbery in a suburban mall, each time giving us more crucial backstory. Day 1: The elderly woman behind the counter of the jewelry store, the target of the crime, pulls a gun from a drawer as the confident masked gunman strips the jewelry displays. She fires and fatally wounds the man, but not before he returns fire. Neither survives. A getaway driver, horrified, flees.

The next caption, “3 Days Before the Robbery,” sets up the foundation. As two brothers, Andy (Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) watch a young girl’s little league baseball game, first-time screenwriter Kelly Masterson shrewdly implies money poses a problem for both men--each secretly hopes the other will pay for the franks and beer. Middle class men in their prime, and each are not earning enough to cover their expenses. Hank, divorced, but still sharing a house with his ex, hasn’t met his child support payments for months. To compound his problem, Hank also insists his daughter attend a ritzy private school.

Andy mocks Hank as they share a table at a bar demeaning him as a fag. He has a plan to solve Hank’s financial problems: “Lets do a robbery.” When Hank demurs, Andy bullies him some more, “when will you grow up?” Not surprisingly, Hank changes course. The plan is to steal and fence the jewelry from their parents’ jewelry store. That’s the great advantage: they know the ins and outs, where the alarms are, where the drawer containing the keys to open the glass displays is. On Saturdays, an elderly employee opens up; she won’t have any reason to fight off an armed thief. At any rate Hank will use a toy gun. No one gets hurt and the only victim is the insurance company.

Hank, appalled, wants out but feels somehow obligated. It’s a tribute to Hawke's’ acting that we completely accept Hank’s timidity, his awe of his smarter and wealthier brother. Andy claims Hank must do the actual crime as Andy was recently at the mall and would be quickly recognized. Hank never spots the flaw in this story, that the woman at the register would easily identify either brother.

Both men work for a real estate firm, Andy the payroll manager, Hank some sort of underling. Hank takes a long lunch to rendezvous with none other than Andy’s wife, Gina (Ms. Tomei), whom he professes to love. She makes no such commitment to him. Andy, it turns out, needs money for more than monthly vacations to Rio. He is embezzling the firm to feed his cocaine habit, and with an IRS audit set for next Monday, he must acquire quick cash to replace what he stole. Andy figures the theft would net a fast $60,000 apiece.

Hank recruits a bartender, Bobby, whom he also owes money to, as his partner to be getaway driver and lookout. But Bobby, seeing Hank is new at this, takes over using a real gun. As we already know, the robbery is botched, but we now learn that it was Hank and Andy’s mother who opened the store this morning.

Upon learning who the victim was, Andy cries, “If we had to take someone out, why couldn’t it be him,” referring to his father. Here Lumet introduces his other great thematic concern: How children inadvertently or deliberately become burdened by the aspirations of their parents. From Lumet’s first masterpiece, his film adaptation of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962) through Running on Empty (1988) and Family Business (1989) the wounds caused by family dysfunctions leave permanent scars for Lumet’s protagonists.

The script unfolds with intense unyielding power; complications make the stakes higher as the brother of Bobby’s girl friend demands a $10,000 settlement to keep quiet about what his sister knows. Next, Charles (Albert Finney), the stern father of the two boys, cannot accept that a low life from Red Hook, Brooklyn would travel all the way to Westchester to commit a robbery unless someone put him up to it. Since the police believe the case is closed, he begins his own investigation.

Finney plays Charles as someone whose anger is always beneath the surface, usually manifested only by crankiness, as in his complaining about having to take another eye test for his driver’s license renewal, but his overpowering grief over his wife’s death makes him into a prototypical Lumet protagonist resolute in his determination to find out the truth.

At their mother’s wake, Charles acknowledges the great failure of his life, his harsh, unforgiving, excluding attitude towards Andy. He apologizes, but Andy, who could never understand or countenance his father's doting on his wimp of a younger brother, (He should check in with his wife on the matter, she certainly found qualities in Hank missing in her liar of a husband.) will have none of it.
His rage and resentment palpable, Hank explains how it feels to be the one member of the family who his parents feel does not belong. He tells Charles their rejection makes him wonder if Charles is really his father (Add the unnecessary hurting of others to the list of defects his wife might cite.), a remark for which Charles slaps him in the face. Hoffman, despicable before this scene, obviously remains so at its conclusion. But in our learning what makes him so vicious, we also learn the depths of his pain. Script, direction and brilliant acting transform Andy from a one-dimensional paragon of evil. We’re still not sympathetic, but now we know him.

Meanwhile Gina admits her affair with Hank, and that she’s leaving Andy. Making for a quartet of excellent performances, Ms. Tomei’s look and hesitancy make it clear she is pleading for Andy, the man she does love, to beg her to stay. But Andy, blinded now by still another family betrayal, lets her go.
A. O. Scott, in his review for The New York Times eloquently explains what we are watching:

The evil in this world arises not out of any grand metaphysical principle, but rather from petty, permanent features of the human character: greed, envy, stupidity, vanity. There are no demons on display, just small, sad, ordinary people. The filmmakers rigorously tally the results of their sins, minor lapses made monstrous by the failure of love and the corruption of ambition. Simple, familiar desires — for money, sex, status,
respect — end in murder.
With the walls ready to tumble on the brothers, Lumet has set the viewer up for a tumultuous grand guignol and a tragic dénouement. Dana Stevens, in her review for Slate applauded the “claustrophobic suspense and deep compassion for its characters—abject, grasping everymen who truly believe they're only one act of violence away from everything they've ever wanted.” The bank robbers played by Pacino and John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon can be described the same way. We know and understand them. This deep compassion is a hallmark of Lumet at his best and why he is one of America’s great directors.

Monday, September 10, 2007

EDWARD YANG 1947--2007

Fatty: "Life is a mixture of sad and happy things. Movies are lifelike. That's why we love them."
Ting-ting: “Then who needs movies. Just stay home and live life.”
Fatty: “We live three times as long since man invented movies.”
Yi Yi

Edward Yang died at age 59. He made just seven films, not including a short segment he made for a Taiwanese film known as Expectations. BFP saw only three, two were masterpieces, and one was just excellent. His movies are rich and beautiful tapestries with indelibly etched men and women presented with compassion and humor. In each of the three films BFP saw—The Terrorizer, A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi--one of the main characters kills someone, Yang makes us feel their anguish. It’s not that we identify with them and are thus implicated in their action, it’s that we understand their powerlessness.

With Yi Yi, his last film, made in 2000, Yang had at last received significant international recognition, winning The National Film Society of Film Critics Award for Best Picture. Now we can surmise why there was no subsequent movie: he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2000. Nine years earlier, Yang directed A Brighter Summer Day, as ironic a title as any film ever released. Few have seen it, even among film cognoscenti, but those who have know its power to make epic the lives of ordinary people, primarily adolescents. Like Yi Yi it gives us the great pleasure of feeling we are watching a novel as the vivid sprawl of characters, the precise sense of place unfold before our eyes. With these two masterpieces, Yang joined an exclusive club of directors who created great novels for the screen including Renoir (The Rules of the Game), Welles (The Magnificent Ambersons), Carne (Children of Paradise), Ichikawa (The Makioka Sisters), Bergman (Fanny and Alexander), and Giordana (The Best of Youth). Yang is the only member to have two films represented.

Yang often holds his shots long and keeps his camera stationery, with the characters frequently going out of view, as if the camera’s sitting in the movie theater with us. Like Ozu’s “pillow shots,” we are placed in a meditative, thoughtful role, given an opportunity to take it all in. With these images Yang also, like Antonioni, asks us to consider the idea of an all-enveloping outside environment impacting on the lives of the characters. The still camera keeps us from getting too close to the characters, who always appear to be part of the homes, streets, social institutions they live in. But, paradoxically, and in no small part because of the writing, acting and directing, we always sympathize with all the characters. The geometric division of space by camera placement accents characters alone in spare spaces to reinforce a sense of their being closed in, trapped, powerless. It also creates rich and arresting visuals: Consider the shot from Yi Yi where the woman, Sherry, caught crying past midnight in the window of her hotel room amid an incredible reflection of massive well-lit skyscrapers and waves of cars--impersonal urban power--makes the viewer aware of how the materialist life she desired and succeeded in creating for herself destroyed her chance to live with the one man she ever loved.

The shot below, also from Yi Yi employs the same style: A woman reflected in a night city-scape.

Initially BFP intended to summarize both The Terrorizer and A Brighter Summer Day, but then recognized this would be extremely unfair to Mr. Yang. All BFP can do is fervently hope that both films will be quickly released by Criterion in pristine prints so that each and every cinephile can at last appreciate this man’s genius. What follows is a brief blurb-style description of these movies, hoping to capture BFP’s view of their essence.

Heavily influenced by Antonioni in its dramaturgy and in its visuals, The Terrorizer (1986) is a pungent, tragic study of the effect random events have on our lives. Besides mocking the idea that we are masters of our fate, Yang presents Taiwan as awash in personal betrayal and corporate sterility. BFP would like too tell you more, but this is a movie that demands concentration and in the end resists quick synopsis.

Although A Brighter Summer Day (1991) runs four hours, most two hour films feel longer. It begins with a title card explaining that teens in 1949 Taiwan emanated from families who left Mainland China, but maintained the hope that they would someday soon return. Thus their life on the island did not allow for permanent commitments—everything was on hold. This insecurity left their children hungry for a stable supportive group that could provide them with identity. Teenage gangs, the focus of the movie, fill the void. We realize soon enough the irony of this: these gangs reflect the militaristic, chauvinist, corrupt, misogynist Mao & Chiang Kai-Shek government’s that oppress their parents. The gangs, like the governments, do not provide security, support or stability. Indeed the film chronicles a ceaseless cycle of betrayal, deceit and murder in a violence obsessed youth culture whose only respite is American rock n roll. (Come to think of it, this doesn’t sound all that different from The Sopranos)

Along the way we meet the lead character’s family: the hard pressed mother working long hours, the father, a confident civil servant protective of his son. By the end, he is a timid, paranoid man destroyed by an interrogation about his Communist friends by the police which results in his losing his job.

Yang’s great theme is how the institutions we created, both political and economic, have gotten way out of our control, making us powerless (In case you haven’t noticed, BFP has been using this word throughout this entry.). Yi Yi, for all its warmth and compassion features a business betrayal a protagonist is powerless to stop as well as a sexual betrayal setting off an inchoate rage leading to murder.

BFP would like to conclude this celebration by citing the eloquent, incisive comments made by two fine writers on film:

Tony Rayns describes The Terrorizer in a Time Out London blurb:“Yang's masterly film keeps numerous plot strands going in parallel, finds a high level of interest and suspense in all of them, and dovetails them together into a composite picture plausible enough to make you cry and shocking enough to leave you gasping. The characters span the full urban spectrum. …Yang reaches high, and his aim is true. “ This description applies to A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi as well.

Saul Austerlitz, in a career profile of Edward Yang for Senses of Cinema, July 2002 writes of Yi Yi: “Earlier in the film, Yang-Yang [the 8 year old] gives his uncle, A-Di, a picture of the back of his head, telling him, ‘You can't see it, so I'm helping you.’ Yang-Yang, as the artist, reveals the blind spots of others, and shows them what they heretofore have been unable to see. Edward Yang also engages in a similar task in Yi Yi, and showing his audience the Jian family coming together is a revelation of just how far apart they have grown, and how great the need is for artists to show us what we are too blind to see about our own lives.”

Thursday, August 9, 2007


BFP became addicted to films early on. Growing up in NYC, there was Million Dollar Movie running one movie 7 days a week two or three times a day. King Kong, Bringing Up Baby, Gunga Din, Top Hat, were available to be savored. BFP saw Citizen Kane while in the seventh grade and was awe-struck. BFP, of course, did not understand all of it, but the idea of a flashback way of telling a story, and that the viewer knew what Rosebud meant while none of the characters did kept BFP turning it on again and again to try to figure it all out.

While in college BFP realized that to live a subway ride away from Manhattan and to love movies was to be quite fortunate (All that was missing was sex.). BFP hung out at The Bleeker Street Cinema, The Art Theater and The 8th Street Playhouse (all gone now), and although BFP would later realize that he had not lived enough nor was he intelligent enough to fully understand what he was watching, saw the flowering of several great international directors: Bergman, Truffaut, Bunuel, Resnais, Godard, Fellini, and the director BFP memorializes this date on his passing, Michelangelo Antonioni.

First BFP must applaud Antonioni’s marvelous, eloquent, awe-inspiring formal style. His pans and his dollies—slow, long, and occasionally circular—entrance, leaving one spellbound. Antonioni’s camera seems to have a mind of its own. It often behaves the way our eyes do: not under our control and with no director dictating to them. His camera surveys its characters dispassionately: sometimes they are shot from behind, sometimes we only see half their body. Often they are shot from a distance. The decenteredness forces the viewer to watch closely, to notice glances, body language, actions and gestures. Physical motions used to reveal inner emotions. Time and time again Antonioni renders men and women as of no more importance than the material structures that entrap them. The classic final shot from L’Avventura (above) illuminates the feeling. The masters of contemporary film—Abbas Kiarostami, Edward Yang (More on Mr.Yang in the next post.), Hou Shiou Hsien, Tsai Ming Ling (More on Tsai in a later post also), Jia Zhang-ke (Way far from a master to BFP, but considered so by many critics BFP respects.) were as influenced by Antonioni’s visuals, as by his disillusionment with the postwar world.

If there were one word to describe the characters in an Antonioni film, the word would be “lost.” Passive because they are defeated, defeated because they are aware they live without hope, without hope because they are aware of their own emptiness. And then there’s Monica Vitti, the compleat Antonioni actor. Is there a shot of her in any of Antonioni’s films where she does not look completely adrift?

In fact, there is. With Antonioni, it’s the exceptions to the rule that make for genius. In his first masterpiece [BFP hasn’t seen Cronica di un Amore. Its admirers claim this is the first masterpiece.], L’Avventura, Claudia, (Ms. Vitti), significantly, is not from inherited, entrenched wealth. Thus, she can still delight at other people’s behavior as well as feel disgust, enabling her to forgive Sandro at the end of L’Avventura. The movie is actually her journey, her immersion into the jaded aristocracy of wealth.

For Antonioni, the forlorn are often men in creative fields like architecture (Sandro), photography (Thomas in Blow-Up) and journalism (David in The Passenger). Each has the whiff of sell-out about them, and each wallows in self-loathing. But each film ends on a note of possibility. Sandro can still feel if he can cry, and Claudia still believes in redemption if she can forgive. Although Thomas can no longer distinguish reality from illusion (Bordwell and Thompson, in their Film History, astutely point out that Blow-Up “probes the illusory basis of photography and suggests its ability to tell the unvarnished truth is limited” [2nd ed, p.428.]), the final shot of Thomas hearing the bounce of a tennis ball which does not exist is not as tragic as it initially appears. Thomas has come closer than ever in his life to imagine, and thus to create. Yes, David winds up dead, but the absorbing track shot that wraps up The Passenger, paralleling the great, final seven minutes of L’Eclisse, assures life will continue even if without the participation of the protagonists.

So, cinemaniacs, aside from a visual style nothing short of dazzling, what makes this heir to Samuel Beckett great is his hopefulness. Antonioni tells us it’s okay, life will go on, we may pass up our best chance at happiness or die trying to be someone else, but in the continuity, the unpredictability, the play of chance, the passivity, even the superficiality of our lives lies our endurance, our possibility, our life. We don’t know how we’re going to handle that next pitch: will we foul out to the catcher, will we hit a home run? In the words of that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over until its over.”

Monday, July 30, 2007

INGMAR BERGMAN, 1918--2007

The 1950’s, in this country, was a fearful time. There was communism, nuclear weapons, and juvenile delinquents. (You can take that to mean working class kids.) The bourgoisie was also afraid of sex; there was no porn industry in the fifties. To slake their thirst for the latter, the middle class flocked to “art” films--it was like reading Playboy for the fiction. One went to foreign movie houses, not to see bare breasted beauties, or so one claimed, but to acclaim cinematic genius. Ingmar Bergman made Summer with Monika, Illicit Interlude and A Lesson in Love, among others, in this decade. He was very popular. BFP does not know how many viewers accidentally discovered film brilliance while waiting for the good scenes, but there must have been a few.

At any rate, for those who really did go to art houses to see art, this was a golden age. And Bergman was rightly considered the genius among geniuses. He was also mocked and parodied mercilessly. “Watching his films was like watching paint dry,” said some critics. When someone deals honestly and powerfully with difficult, irresolvable issues, some people become uncomfortable, and lash out as a way of not dealing with their disquiet.

Artists, and Bergman was one of the greatest of this or any century, struggle to understand, to articulate with eloquence and intensity something profound about the human spirit, about the need to connect with others, (and about how difficult that is), about the difficulty of discerning truth from lies, about God, and about death. They know they do not have any answers to the questions they raise, but they also know they must forever try to come to grips with the most important questions of our existence. Perhaps they will succeed in creating one pinprick of light to illuminate a small piece of the darkness we forever stumble in. Maybe they will hit upon the right question to ask so that another, after them, will be able to find the answer. Possibly, simply by telling us there is no cure, we will be put at peace.

Artists, no matter how obscure, will always have an audience if they are honest and challenging, because there will always be men and women, forever young, trying to come to grips with the same concerns. We keep trying to find meaning. They will want to know how earlier great thinkers dealt with the anxieties they are now experiencing. Some of these students, in becoming writers, painters, or artists of any craft, will forever be influenced by Sawdust and Tinsel (Can you guess why it was released in America as The Naked Night ?) The Silence, Persona, Fanny and Alexander, Shame, Wild Strawberries, Scenes From a Marriage, The Virgin Spring, To Joy, Smiles of a Summer Night.

Yes, Cinemaniacs, this great man is no longer with us, but do not despair. To paraphrase Ma Joad, in a totally different context (not from the book, but the movie), “we keep a-comin'. We're the people that [question]. They can't wipe us out. They can't lick us. And we'll go on forever, ... 'cause... we're the people [that question.]”

Friday, June 1, 2007


It’s beginning to look a lot like America, everywhere you go. Take South Korea. Bleached blonde haired slackers, cell phones, gangsters, television and fast food galore. Also ineffective governments; ours can’t handle a monster of a hurricane, theirs can’t handle the real thing.

Joon-ho Bong is South Korea’s Steven Spielberg, (a major influence on Mr. Bong as well) and The Host is his Jaws. Both directors have enormous talent and their films make money. The Host has become South Korea’s top grossing movie of all time. His brilliant 2004 Memories of Murder was a true crimer about another monster, this time a real one--a serial killer who was never apprehended. In both movies Bong directs with sly wit, jolting scares, and sharp jabs at Korean life.

The Host opens with an obnoxious American military scientist insisting on dumping hundreds of unused, dusty formaldehyde bottles into Seoul’s Han River despite the fears of his Korean assistant. BFP wonders if the title alludes to South Korea being “host” to the American military virus.

Cut to a lazy summer day at the shore some months or years later. Interrupting the seaside calm is the emergence from the deep of a giant lizard, athletic and graceful. What at first seems spectacular to the beach-goers becomes terrifying as the monster starts gorging itself on them. Gang-du, who, when he’s not sleeping, runs a snack-stand, takes his teenaged daughter, Hyeon-su, in-hand to flee the mutant creature. But amid the panicked throngs, he loses hold of her. Frantic, he spots her anew and grasps her hand. The camera pulls back, however, to reveal Gang-du has taken hold of another girl wearing the same school uniform. Typical Bong: We laugh as we scream.

The saurian does not eat all its prey at once. Some it regurgitates, depositing them into an undersea grotto, presumably saving them for midnight snacks. Among those stored is Hyeon-su. Gang-du’s family, nicely rendered by Bong, consists of his ineffectual father; his brother, an unemployed college graduate with an affinity for alcohol and whining, and an archery obsessed sister. When not arguing with each other, (Manhola Dargis points out they don’t seem all that different from the family in Little Miss Sunshine.) they all understandably believe Hyeon-su is dead. Then they begin receiving calls from her on their cell phones. With callous scientists and inept police behaving nearly as badly as the monster, the film becomes a frenzied search as Gang-du and his siblings scramble to locate and rescue Hyeon-su .

The Host wraps as a triumph of cross-cutting and fast-paced, clever action script-writing. Koreans, like Americans, obviously love blockbusters. And like Mr. Spielberg here, they have at least one director who knows how to make them.