In the run up to his first ‘Discovering Korean Cinema’ article Kev takes a look at 2009: Lost Memories, a festering pile of excrement though not quite in the same league as Yesterday, a film he will review later today.
Warning: For those not familiar with the premise of the film this review contains spoilers, which while they may be well known across the Internet, some of you may not be aware of the twists. I have gone with my instinct to discuss them.
On August 15th, 1945 Japan and the United States of America won World War 2 and Eastern Asia was introduced as a new nation, forming ‘The great East Asian union’. This new nation becomes the Japanese empire, financially the second most powerful country after the U.S.A. With these changes also comes terrorism, people who continue to fight for a cause and who strive to disrupt the great Japanese nation.
The year is now 2009. Japan has three major cities, which consist of Tokyo, Osaka and Seoul. Anti-terrorist forces protect the cities, however, an attack on an artefacts museum leads to the JBI (Japanese Bureau of Investigation) being called to the scene. Sources confirm that the group attacking the Inoue hosted event are the Hureisenjin, a group of terrorists trying to bring down the current government. Special agents Sakamoto Masayuki (Jang Dong-gun) and Saigo Shojiro (Toru Nakamura) are given charge of the case and immediately infiltrate the museum. Successfully taking out the Hureisenjin, Sakamoto is left to ponder the reasons behind this attack as nothing seems to add up and he is fuelled further into investigating the matter.
Somehow the attacks are related to the Inoue Foundation, a political group that Sakamoto wishes to investigate deeper but cannot due to his superiors refusal to let him see important files and thus, the case is dropped. Being a stubborn agent he decides to work on the case alone and soon finds out that everything centres around Korea being in Japanese hands. As he nears the truth he is set up by the JBI, arrested for murder and subsequently finds himself alone after his best friend Saigo helps him escape. This, he is warned will be the last time they meet as friends and so now Sakamoto is on the run, confused and injured, he must unlock the mystery surrounding him as the Japan he thought he knew is not what it appears to be.
Sakamoto soon learns that the Hureisenjin terrorist organisation believe they are living in an alternative reality, one that has been created by the Japanese and covered up for the past 60 years. They plan on finding the ‘Lunar soul’, a device that can send them back in time so they can put a stop to this conspiracy resulting in their countries independence. Sakamoto must join the Hureisenjin, in a fight to save Korea or else lose it forever.
My main concern whilst reviewing this film was how much to give away in the story but I do not think that it is any secret as to how the events unfold. I feel that I must mention the main plot points as this film has many problems that I need to discuss.
2009: Lost Memories had been hyped a lot, this was looking like the film to take the mantle away from Shiri but I am sorry to say that it turned out to be a disappointment; it is hard to say this because the first half really is enjoyable.
Things start off with Japan winning World War 2 and we are brought right into 2009 with the story maintaining the premise of ‘what if’. We are lead to believe that this is a straight action/thriller set not too far in the future and at no point are we made aware of what is to come later. The opening gun fight in the museum starts everything off nicely but the action soon becomes more than silly when we see one terrorist looking more like Jesse Ventura in Predator as he fires off rounds from a huge Gattling gun whilst surrounded by cops…it’s a no brainer alright and unfortunately it is the nature of the script and set pieces that let this down immensely.
After the shootout we are then properly introduced to the main leads. Agent Sakamoto Masayuki is a Korean who is forced to use a Japanese name, which doesn’t sit too well with him as he is constantly being reminded of his blood heritage not to mention his deceased father, a cop who was accused of corruption. Jang Dong-gun does a fine job as a man trying to find his true belonging in a society ruled by Japan, as he discovers horrid truths about the past and his own father’s search for the truth; in fact Sakamoto’s character is really the only one that has much depth.
Saigo Shojiro is Sakamoto’s partner, a Japanese agent who is all too aware that he is teamed up with a Korean yet they remain the best of friends. That is until things start to get hectic and he is forced to put his friendship aside, becoming the patriot in a bid to protect Japan from losing all face. In this role Toru Nakamura is the only other outstanding performer and it is the bond between the two agents that holds most of our attention as we watch their friendship deteriorate and the characters go their separate ways.
It is unfortunate that after such a strong start in the first hour things take a turn for the worse as we are introduced to the science fiction element. Now when I watched this film I had no idea this would happen and went in honestly believing this was a haunting look at what could have happened had Japan won the war and taken over Korea. The film does indeed follow this plot to a point but then it has to spoil everything by turning into a time travel movie. As if it wasn’t bad enough the film makers had chosen to depict Japan as a cold hearted race that have stripped Korea of its independence and custom, they go one step further by having them be the cause of the biggest conspiracy to ever grace the earth.
On top of all this the Sci-fi section is just very poorly executed. I do not have a problem with the concept, hoping that there would be some kind of redemption for both countries by the end of the film, hoping that it would be about the two nations coming together in the future after a long hard haul but despite the opportunity being there it is not taken. Instead we are given a film that puts the Japanese in a harsh light while the Koreans are the heroes’ of the day and nothing will let you think otherwise.
To my knowledge this film did not go down too well in Japan and I can understand why. Despite possessing a genuine love for Japan there is no bias in my judgement here because I feel that 2009: Lost Memories is a decent concept that is poorly executed, and offers no redeeming outcome for anyone but the Koreans. One of my problems with any type of War film is the patriotism that is so evident, it almost makes me sick. When Americans’ make war films they are always about them and the same is true here as we really are meant to think that Japan is an evil race full of happy go lucky killers. I just feel that the past should be left alone as there will always be negative aspects to making these kinds of films.
2009: Lost Memories is a huge production and aside from the two great lead performances the other stars would be the sets. A good job has been made of putting them together to offer an alternative look in the near future. The great looking museum and police headquarters make everything look grand but while the sets are nice it is the abundant use of CGI that is a let down. From the opening scenes featuring hand gliders to the unconvincing helicopter scenes toward the end this really does look a bit poor. Okay so Korea is starting out with using computer effects but I think the makers got a little carried away with themselves here.
Like Shiri the film goes for a loud Western style action movie score which really goes over the top. I did not enjoy this much as it tried to punctuate the action more throughout the choppy editing, and while this is good to watch at times it then slows down, the music changes so we can feel sympathy for the Korean terrorists being gunned down before cranking back up later with the familiar operatic loud sounds and symbol crashes. Technically the action scenes are no worse than those in Shiri and they will please action fans I’m sure.
I really wanted to like this film more but it is a mix of action and sci-fi that just doesn’t gel. The running time is too long and the timeline angle is too much of a disappointment and in the end it fails to offer anything on a real emotional level. A failed concept.
This review is taken from the EnterOne two disc set that is labelled R3, but is actually region free. I have the Limited Edition set which is now very hard to source and includes a large ‘making of’ book. As this is entirely in Korean I would recommend the cheaper and easier to find normal two-disc special edition release.
For a film this new I had hoped for a better transfer and I am assuming that by adding a DTS track the picture has suffered. It is anamorphic wide-screen 1.85:1 and aside from showing a bit too much grain, stands up well with strong colours and detail.
The removable English subtitles are for the most part very good.
There is an option here of DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1. I have not listened to the DTS track but if the 5.1 is anything to go by then you are in for a treat. Personally I feel the soundtrack was hard on the ears and not particularly enjoyable but it certainly is loud and action fans will get a kick out of this.
Note: There are no subtitles for any of the extra features.
Disc one includes an audio commentary with the director, cast and crew biographies, a stills gallery, music video, theatrical trailer and TV Spot.
Disc two features some more substantial bonus features starting with four short interviews with the director and principal cast members. A 60-minute feature on the films production is split into seven sections and even without subtitles proves to be fairly interesting and shows the various training methods used with actors as well as location shooting.
The Inside of Lost Memories is a ten minute featurette that can be viewed with or without pop-up options. When an icon appears onscreen you can select it to view more film insights, bringing the total run time to around 15 minutes.
How To Make the Movie Sound is split into seven sections focusing on the various stages of adding sound to the film. Going from production sound through to adding music, various effects and pre-mixes required and then through to the final mix this feature uses the same scene to show the difference as each stage is completed.
2009: Lost Memories feels like two separate films. If you just want something with action then by all means go and see it but don’t let it fool you into thinking that it is offering anything intelligent. What if and what could have been…
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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