Saturday, 10 September 2016

Review: The Silenced

The Silenced is a thriller-mystery written and directed by Lee Hae-young, released in 2015, and starring Park Bo-young and Park So-dam as students at the secretive boarding school run by headmistress Uhm Ji-won. I found it by scouring through the horror section - my favourite section - on UK Netflix.

I'm a casual fan of foreign film and television - that is to say I haven't seen many of the big titles that have been released over the past few years, but I've seen the occasional Danish or French film and Swedish television series. I am by no means an aficionado and I don't recall ever seeing anything made outside of Europe or the USA, so I didn't have any particular expectations when I started watching The Silenced, other than I had planned on sitting down to a horror. 

The story is set in 1938, during the Japanese colonisation of Korea, and after following her car through mountainous forests we are introduced to a rather sickly looking Ju-ran, known as Shizuko (which, rather aptly, means "quiet child"), portrayed by Park Bo-young. Her stepmother is begrudgingly escorting her to her new, isolated boarding school, where she will be treated for tuberculosis.

It's quickly clear, though, before Ju-ran even steps across the threshold of the school, that a spectre is hanging over it. She has the same name as a previous student, Shizuko, who disappeared overnight without a word to her schoolmates. Her two best friends, Kazue and Yuka, are particularly devastated by this, but while Kazue befriends the shy Ju-ran, Yuka reacts quite differently, and bitterly resents the new Shizuko.

But Yuka's vicious attacks on her are the least of Ju-ran's worries. Another girl disappears, but not before Ju-ran encounters her in a more than peculiar state and the mysteries of the school deepen.

The concept behind The Silenced is not one unfamiliar to the average film fan, but to describe it or even just compare it to other films would certainly destroy the mystery. I must, though, praise the film for its unique historical backdrop and its female-led cast. The claustrophobic environment of the boarding school allows for dynamic relationships to form between unpredictable characters as the film progresses and we wonder who we should like, and never quite expect what's coming next. All the while the viewer cannot help but notice the beautiful 1930's-inspired sets and costumes - the girls' uniforms made my heart skip a little beat!

Admittedly, the film wasn't perfect. There were times when the story moved slowly, but one can rarely expect something set in a girls' boarding school in 1930's Korea to be fast paced at all times, and I'm not sure I would want it to, because the slower pace allowed for the character development I admired throughout. The film just wasn't the "horror" I set out to watch - which made sense once I finished and realised it was rated G.

The Silenced is a carefully constructed film that never quite reaches a crescendo, but is certainly worth a watch regardless. I would recommend watching it on a Sunday evening with your favourite type of hot and comforting beverage, because the story may not pan out the way you expect it to - or, indeed, urge it to.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Why I Keep Going to See Jersey Boys: A Review

In May, one of my best friends visited me in London. We were on a high after finishing our exams and decided to take advantage of my residence in the capital before I moved home for the summer. I wish I could say we did all the touristy things, but frankly we weren't that organised. On the final night of her visit, though, we found ourselves wandering through Piccadilly Circus, I imagine in the middle of one of our absurd conversation, when something caught my eye. It was a ticket booths, advertising discounted tickets for a plethora of West End shows.

"Why don't we just go in and ask, see how much tickets are? We won't pay anything more than £25, maybe, if there's something we want to see?"

We ended up paying around £26 each. The name Jersey Boys had been mentioned. "Oh, go on!" I pleaded. "I've been wanting to see it for ages!"

I guess most people grow up listening to The Beatles or Bowie, and I did too, but I'd also been acquainted with the sound of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons for as long as I could recall. I'd been introduced to 'Big Girls Don't Cry' by films like Dirty Dancing and Mermaids. 'Sherry', 'Beggin'', and so many others I feel I have somehow always known, they simply slipped into my conscious one day and never left.

So my friend and I found ourselves transported to "Belleville, New Jersey, a thousand years ago, Eisenhower, Rocky Marciano, and a few guys under a streetlamp singing somebody else's latest hit," from the Grand Circle of Piccadilly Theatre. Strawberry daiquiris were drunk (that was me), realisations that we were seeing a show about the Four Seasons, not the Four Tops were had (that was my friend), and tears were held back (that was both of us). We left on an emotional high and both of us spent the subsequent week trying and failing to sing along to the original Frankie Valli's falsetto, impeccably replicated in the theatre by Matthew Corner.

Nine days later, after a brief visit home, I was at the Piccadilly Theatre to again to see the show for what was now the third time. When the lady at the box office asked if I had seen it before as we bought our tickets, I bashfully admitted, "Actually, I was here yesterday," before we excitedly made our way to the front row.

It's here that I would quickly like to pay special tribute to Mark Isherwood, one of the swings for Jersey Boys. For the previous two performances, I had seen him perform as the late Nick Massi, the bass guitarist and bass vocalist who ponders aloud throughout the show, "Maybe I should start my own group." Now I was seeing him perform as Tommy DeVito, just a day later, and he was bringing as much personality to this role as he had to the role of Nick Massi, and was performing it just as well. I know this is exactly what a swing does, but I could not help but be in awe of him as a performer. I have yet to see Jersey Boys without him, and I can't help but wonder if it might feel a little odd when I do.

And I certainly mean "when", because I am determined to return to the Piccadilly Theatre to see at least one more performance. Jersey Boys offers a colourful, heartfelt take on the story of Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, and Bob Gaudio. Having seen the show from the second and first row on two consecutive nights, I can personally vouch for the passion, energy, and emotion each actor pours into their role, and that there will be tears in your eyes during at least two of the musical numbers.

Jersey Boys is a perfectly put together musical, so much so that it would seem even Clint Eastwood has been to see it again and again, because when I turned on his 2014 movie adaptation of the story, I recognised some of the scenes as almost shot-for-shot remake of the stage musical.

So if it's good enough for Clint Eastwood, I think it's safe to say if you ever find yourself in the West End with a few hours to spare, you should wander up to the Piccadilly Theatre and see if you can pick up a ticket for Jersey Boys.