Intimate Enemies (2015) Korean Movie Review

나의 절친 악당들 리뷰

Hello. This is Prof. AKIA with another new Korean movie release. It is “Intimate Enemies”  or “나의 절친 악당들” (2015). Here is a trailer.

A funny thing about the Korean movie industry is that, once in a while, what amounts to “Indie Arthouse” movies slip into the box office as if they are main stream Korean movies. They are given decent budgets. They have a decent cast. And there are promoted as if they are main stream movies. However, they are obviously not!

Really not!

They are so blatantly not for the mainstream market that I have no idea who thought these movies would make mainstream bucks.  The movie I am going to talk about today is one of those movies. It is called “Intimate Enemies”  or “나의 절친 악당들” (2015).

Get ready to get your arthouse groove on!

The Plot
The plot of the movie surrounds 4 suitcases full of “shady” money involved in a car accident, the 4 people who find the money, and the 4 or so people who are tasked to retrieve the money by its actual owner.

Seems like your cliché plot for an action thriller?
However, “Intimate Enemies” is not actually your typical action thriller…

It is true that the plot is rather shallow and cliché. However, the linear narrative does not really matter much for “Intimate Enemies”. Standard movie narrative requirements such as setting up characters, creating an event, developing the characters as they interact with the event, and the event finally reaching a climax are not where the heart of this movie lies. Rather, it is in the display of absurdness and surrealism.

This is why this movie is an arthouse movie!

The Absurd
From the start, the movie does not care about providing any kind of context to the events happening. They just happen and the audience is left to so ask “what is happening?” The only thing the audience knows comes from fact that we have seem similar events in other movies before.  

That is mostly all we are left with!

The characters in the movie are treated in the same manner. The characters just come on screen and get involved with the events without properly being introduced. Even after the movie gets into full gear, the few tidbits of information regarding the characters the movie provides are basically just throwaway information that has no bearings on the characters’ motivations.  We are left asking “why is the character acting that way?

The interesting thing is that this is intentional as the characters actually have no real motivations. They are not real characters but rather just cartoon paper cutouts placed in the movie to act out absurd skits.

What do I mean by absurd?

It is as if the characters were written without the ability to comprehend the context of the situation they are in. So, they act in absurd manners that make no real logical sense to a real person. And every single character in this movie including the villains and supporting characters act in this manner.

In many ways, this makes the movie feel like a comedy. You have a series of what amounts to skits tied together with a flimsy plot and characters acting goofy / absurdly in those skits. Think “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) but more subtle and less juvenile. However, it is difficult to categorize “Intimate Enemies” (2015) as a comedy as the movie is not funny. Some would say the same thing about “Dumb and Dumber” (1994).

Ba da boom!

But that is another discussion. Intimate Enemies” (2015) Is too absurd for it to be actually funny as the setup and punch line of gags are basically delivered in the same manner. I personally would actually call the movie a surreal farce.

What do I mean by surreal?

The Surreal
The surrealism comes from the contrast of the absurdity and the movie’s tone. As I mention previously, all the characters in “Intimate Enemies” (2015) seemed to be living in this absurd world where absurd is the norm. They actions are weird and goofy. Their basic form of communication is the “insulting someone right up in their face by hiding it under a cough” routine. In many cases, characters just randomly mix rude insults with polite but condescending speech. The abundance of absurdity makes the movie feel somewhat surreal.

What amplifies this surrealistic feeling is that the movie is overall presented like your standard mainstream action thriller. The cinematography is bright and crisp. The production design is rather top notch. The acting is generally above board.

Are you following me?

If you have not encountered this type of movie, it is difficult to understand and harder to describe. While watching “Intimate Enemies” (2015), the first movie that popped into my head was “Tank Girl” (1995). That movie had a weird messy plot full with absurdity although it was more tongue and cheek. I think I had more fun with “Tank Girl” (1995) although some would argue vehemently against this. I personally like the fact that “Tank Girl” (1995) was more earnest about its absurdity.

The second movie was “Spring Breakers” (2012) by, the current poster child for absurd surreal movies, Harmony Korine. There are a lot of influences from that movie in “Intimate Enemies” (2015). It even has a character that is straight out a copy of James Franco’s character, “Alien”, from “Spring Breakers” (2012).

The Test of Art
As with many arthouse movies, how one reacts to “Intimate Enemies” (2015) will differ drastically depending on one’s preferences. To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of “hard” arthouse movies although I can respect them. So, you do have to take a grain of salt on how I judge this movie.

In my opinion, Intimate Enemies” (2015) tries to be too main stream for its own good. It made too many concessions and this is coming from someone that actually prefers mainstream movies.

Mainstream here does include dramas!
Popcorn does not totally equal mainstream.

The point of the movie seems to be to express the absurdity and superficiality of current Korean society. The finger is not only pointed to the rich but also to the poor who want to be rich and will stoop low just to scrape up some breadcrumbs the rich dropped on the floor.  This is a main interest of this movie’s director. I mean he directed “The Housemaid” (2010). He has never been subtle about portraying this theme in his movies and Intimate Enemies” (2015) is no exception. This is similar to the point of “Spring Breakers” (2012).

However, at the same time, “Intimate Enemies” (2015) tries to be an action thriller. For this type of “escape with the dirty money” movie, the plot is structured to include a certain level of wish fulfillment. The audience wants the characters to get away with the money. However, this concession to the mainstream comes in conflicts with the overbearing sense of indiscriminate absurdity. So, you are left asking “why should these absurd people triumph over other absurd people just because they are the protagonist of the movie?

It also does not help that the movie is not a particularly good action thriller in the first place. It is too absurd of a movie to be a proper mainstream movie. As a result, the impact of the absurdity gets somewhat watered down. In contrast, “Spring Breakers” (2012) does not work at all beyond the movie it exactly intended to be. I mean, linear narrative wise, “Spring Breakers” (2012) makes no sense and doesn’t even try to be.

A similar thing happens with the characters. In both movies, none of the characters are likable. However, the two movies differ in how stark they are portrayed. In “Spring Breakers” (2012), the movie does not look kindly on the characters. The movie just bluntly presents them as the superficial and absurd people they are. In “Intimate Enemies” (2015), the characters are portrayed in more of a kind light as the movie is actually goofy in a lot of ways. There is a sense of safety to the movie as everyone including the villains act goofy and lack overt vile.  In many way, the villains are more endearing than protagonists.

To be specific, this sense of safety lasts only until the last 15 minute mark of the movie. At that point, the movie turns into a “sexy girls wielding long-swords to disembody people” type fantasy fulfillment movie for no apparent reason. Considering all the goofiness prior to this point and the fact that the protagonists are not particularly more likable then the villains, this turn of events just feel awkward rather than cathartic. Either response would be a bad thing for this movie’s main theme.

As a result of these compromises, Intimate Enemies” (2015) feels like it lacks a firm bite to it. Since there is no good route for a movie like this to take a step back, this move is a sin!

There are only frontal charges into the breach!

It does not help that the movie is around 2 hours long. Intimate Enemies” (2015) is too long for the type of movie it is. This running time is too long for most comedy movies. In comparison, Spring Breakers” (2012) runs for 94 minutes which is still somewhat long in my opinion.

At The End
Intimate Enemies” (2015) is an absurd surrealistic farce masquerading as an action thriller. The problem with the movie is that it succeeded too much in the later for the former to really work. Considering what kind of movie Intimate Enemies” (2015) is at its core, a happy and safe middle ground where one gets critical praise from the arthouse crowd and financial praise from the mainstream does not exist.

This is a shame since the attempt was not without merit and the performances from actors such as Ryoo Seung-Bum / 류승범 and Koh Joon-Hee / 고준희 were solid. The movie even has a foreigner of African descent, Samuel Okyere, cast as a major supporting character. Leaving aside his acting talents, this is not a common thing in Korean movies.

Intimate Enemies” (2015) is  director Im Sang-Soo’s (임상수 ) most mainstream movie until this point. He has directed arthouse movies such as “The Housemaid” (2010) and “The Taste of Money” (2012). I think he should come to a conclusion about what kind of director he wants to be. Trying to straddle the two worlds does not seem to work for him. The fact that he is a talented director is evident in the movie. However, it is also evident that he cannot just let go a make a mainstream movie.

Over all, I am not sure what kind of audiencesIntimate Enemies” (2015) is for. The movie is too absurd for the main stream crowd and too watered down for the arthouse folks. Personally, I was rather bored entering into the second hour of the movie. While there are creative scenes in the movie, they were not crazy enough to hold my interest. As the movie went on, the absurdness became rather one note and felt repetitive. Since you are not going to be invested in the characters, these things are vital.  

As a side note, there are actually several actors of foreign decent beyond the major supporting character. If you think about it, their portrayal could be considered very racists but the absurd nature of the movie tends to cover up those scenes.

At the end, Intimate Enemies” (2015) is a movie that falls into the category of “Have serious issues but worth watching at least time” which is a C. However, the movie is not made without skill. The director is to experience for that to happen. So, I am bumping up the movie to a grade of C+.

Score: C+ or 5.25/10

This was Prof. AKIA and thanks for reading my review.
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Past Reviews. Click on the pictures

Perfect Proposal / 은밀한 유혹 (2015) Review

The Shameless /무뢰한 (2015)  Review

The Treacherous (2015)  Review

The Chronicles of Evil/악의 연대기 (2015)  Review

Love Clinic 연애의 맛(2015)  Review

Coin Locker Girl / Chinatown 차이나타운 (2015) Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Review

Revivre 화장 (2015) Review

Twenty (2015)  Review

The Deal (2015)

Socialphobia (2015)

The pictures and video used in this review are done for criticism purposes and are the properties of those copyright holders. This review is mine.
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