At first glance, Kim Ki-duk's Bad Guy offers little to recommend. It's cheerless, brutal, and coated in a thick layer of grime. But beneath all the sleaze is something curious--for all the film's nastiness, it somehow manages to feel wildly romantic.
The story: A pretty schoolgirl, Sun-hwa (Seo Won), catches the eye of lowlife pimp Han-ki (Jo Jae-hyeon). Moments later, the hoodlum attacks, planting an unwanted kiss on the girl. A brawl breaks out and Sun-hwa spits on her attacker. It's a loogie with consequences--days later, Han-ki, still enraged (or perhaps smitten?), sets Sun-hwa up with a stolen wallet, and soon the proper schoolgirl finds herself deep in debt. A stint in Seoul's red-light district is her only means of returning the money.
All of this is unsavory, to be sure, but there's a heart in the film, a heart hinted at in Kim's portrayal of the ghetto where pale reds, yellows, and greens gently bleed into each other, and where crickets chirp pleasantly in the calm morning hours while the girls wait for their suitors. By the end, Kim has turned his film on its head, abandoning reality in favor of a fevered dream where time becomes inconsistent and love emerges between villain and victim. You may leave Bad Guy offended, you may leave it confused--but you most certainly won't leave it unaffected. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
Popaganda: The Art and Subversion of Ron English
Opens Fri June 17
Clinton St. Theater
This documentary shows off the rich tapestry that is the life and career of master artist and subvert Ron English. At once prolific and poignant, English has been cranking out copious amounts of art, street theater, and even music for years.
You've seen English's work whether you know it or not--his paintings have graced the promotional posters of 2004's documentary Supersize Me!, album covers for the Dandy Warhols, and countless humorously/politically altered and parodied billboards in and around New York and Los Angeles.
English's penchant for activism notwithstanding, the guy really is a terrific painter--his is a world of confidence, art, and impunity making a stand against the raging seas of commerce and corporate dominance. To verbally describe his paintings, it would be necessary for my words to melt and float away as vaguely familiar iridescent clouds saddled by ersatz pop icons bearing the voluminous heft of social injustice. So I won't even try. I will simply suggest that you see this film, and English's art, for yourself. LANCE CHESS
The Animation Show
Opens Fri June 17
This year's The Animation Show is the second collection of shorts curated by Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill) and Don Hertzfeldt (Rejected, Ah, L'Amour). As is generally the case with compilations of any kind, the collection is hit and miss. Some of these films are designed to showcase the technical work of the animation, without much thought to story, but the best shorts in the collection combine both innovative techniques and a sense of humor. Particularly clever is a mock-documentary about people who serve samples in grocery store aisles, and a computer animated piece called "Fallen Art," a violent, sick, and bizarre story involving corpses splattered on asphalt. A claymation short by Peter Cornwell, "Ward 13," also stands out--working a horror/comedy theme, its protagonist awakens in a hospital ward filled with thug surgeons and inexplicable monsters, then has to fight his way out. And hands down the cutest of the bunch is "Hello," a sweet love story involving a character with a cassette player for a head, and his crush on a girl with a CD player for a head.
While there are several gems in this collection, there are also enough snoozers that one should bring a healthy enthusiasm for the medium--or be prepared to take catnaps in between the more exciting entries. MARJORIE SKINNER