Nong Shim Udon Japanese Style Noodle Soup

I used to review instant-noodle soups a lot (the site where I did might still be live out there), and now that I have a centralized review/log blog, I figured I might as well start doing it here as well. With winter coming on, it’s a good time to start stocking noodles in the office, so I picked up a 12-pack of these (I always buy in bulk) at the Oriental Market in Lynnview.

Subjective snapshot

Quality: 4.0/5 stars
Spiciness: 0/5 chilis

Review

It’s worth noticing that Nong Shim actually has two noodle-cup products billed as “Udon Noodle Soup”. This is the simpler and cheaper of the two; in particular, it doesn’t actually contain udon noodles, but simply a thicker version of the usual instant-ramen instant noodles. It’s still quite accomplished and partially justifies its relatively high price point, with a strong, savory dashi broth enlivened by seaweed strips and small fish cakes (there are also some disappointingly hard age squares, for which “enlivened” might not be the right word) The noodles are nicely springy and stand up to reconstitution well, and are generous enough in bulk and absorbancy that they never seem to be swimming in too much broth. The seaweed tended to congregate at the bottom, but if you stir a bit between bites that’s easily enough averted.I confess, I balked a bit at the price, and still do even after eating it, because north of $1.25 is pretty princely territory for a noodle-cup, but in fairness this is an awfully good exemplar of its class. It’s not really udon, to their discredit; although it has almost all the requisite elements of a kitsune udon, a soup isn’t actually udon unless it has, y’know, udon noodles. Other than the noodle-choice-of-convenience, though, this is awfully satisfactory. Read more of this post

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봄여름가을겨울그리고봄/Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

[Screenshot]Spring, Summer… is a surprisingly thematically rich film. I caught the last 20 or so minutes of it on TV at one point, but otherwise didn’t know overmuch about it, and I’d missed out on everything that led up to those 20 minutes, which considerably diminished my appreciation. It is chock-full of symbolism, most of it at just the right level: with symbolism there’s always a danger of either aiming too high and seeming pretentious, or too low and seeming patronizing. For the most part, the symbols in this film occupy a comfortable middle ground (although the Spring flashbacks near the end of the Winter segment were perhaps unnecessary).

It’s visually lush too, which makes the long, slow panoramas a visual treat. It doesn’t fall into any of the usual “scenery porn” traps of assuming the visual spectacle is sufficient in its own right, but always gives us something to chew on in front of the scenery, even if the action is languid. Many of the thematic elements are exhibited through nature, so the serene naturalism of the setting is really quite appropriate. One setting idiosyncrasy I noted was bound up with the themes and symbols I’ve already mentioned: a strong emphasis seemed to be placed on boundaries and passages, but, oddly, the passageways existed outside of the contexts in which a passageway makes sense. The monastary had interior doors but not interior walls. I was actually halfway convinced this was a cinematic/theatrical convention akin to the minimalistic sets of Our Town and Dogville, since everyone used the doors when traversing areas — except for a single instance, during the apprentice’s nocturnal creeping in the Summer segment. Likewise, the wilderness in which the monastary is situated is accessed by a gate, with doors that close, and, as with the interior doors of the monastary, they’re used compulsively, and seem to represent an explicit separation between the scenes of action. This is among the many stylizations which is simultaneously easy to appreciate and difficult to fully comprehend/

So, as I’ve gone on about, this film is pretty deep with symbols and themes. Boundaries, and, as the title suggests, cycles, but also a surprisingly un-Buddhist theme: penance. Over and over again, the apprentice undergoes ritual absolution. Parts of this, morally, feel more like elements of director Kim’s Christianity than the Buddhism he’s attempting to channel. But that’s a quibble. I certainly don’t expect it to necessarily recapitulate a single belief system slavishly, although many of the overarching messages, particularly the dangers of desire, are consistent with what I know of Buddhism.

There’s a lot to like here. It’s visually stunning, in service of considerably more than just being pretty. Plotwise it’s a bit light, but there’s a lot going on onscreen that’s not, technically speaking, plot. Not much in the way of complaints though. Its languor touches on the overdone once or twice, but not enough to be a deal-breaker. The role of women in the story is somewhat unfortunately objectivized — and a bit chilling, if one reads the Autumn segment as involving the same woman as Summer (which is implied strongly, but not stated outright).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

올드보이/Oldboy

[Screenshot]I took a look at this mostly to see Kang Hye-Jeong again, since she was brilliant in Welcome to Dongmakgol; also, I’d heard its name around, so I got the impression it was a classic. It is, in its own limited way, a film of significance: it fits into a logical twenty-first century cinematic styple which I mostly think of as Tarantino-space (my first thought: “Quentin Tarantino must’ve loved this film” as indeed he did; my second: “Adam Cadre would probably hate it”, which I don’t think has been definitely answered). It is extremely, viscerally violent, and manages to be extremely discomfort-inducing despite comparatively mild on-screen squick. The violence and cinematography left me colkd: the former just ’cause I don’t get into it, the latter because what I think were supposed to be really effective bits just seemed muddled to me: there’s a famous fight scene shot without cuts, from the side, but it just ended up confusing and overlong: Oh Daesu kicks, hits people with hammers, get dogpiled, pushes everyone off of himself, and starts all over again. It seemed frankly rather tedious.

Psychologically, though, this works quite well. The cat-and-mouse aspects are powerful, and the motivations for both Woojin and Daesu are believable and keep the film taut. I was favorably impressed by a particular dialouge fragment: Daesu calls foul on Woojin for hypnotizing him to forget a critical piece of history. Woojin’s response? “I didn’t brainwash you. You just forgot.” It works, really. It’s the central event of Woojin’s life, and was basically an inconsequential little scene to Daesu. That actually works for me: underplaying the momentous is really what makes this work.

But, oy, God, is it ever a nasty little story. This is a cruel little tale, not particularly hopeful unless you care to be optimistic about the last five minutes.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

웰컴투 동막골/Welcome to Dongmakgol

[Screenshot]This film, more than any other, made dropping by the Heritage Language Film Festival worth it. It is funny, sentimental, brilliantly acted with breathtaking cinematography, and it is very, very easy for Americans to miss (I think there’s no stateside DVD; Netflix doesn’t have it). The story starts out as a farce. Think of it as a sitcom: three stranded North Korean survivors, two South Korean deserters, and a downed American pilot each, through seperate means, stumble upon the same remote, apolitical mountaintop village. Hilarity ensues, and over time the wary foes learn to put aside their differences, which is where the story gets all heartwarming. There’s even a love story sideplot involving a charmingly fay performance by Hye-Jeong Kang, and through the entire mdidle portion it’s very sentimental but still funny, but in the end, as this is, at its core, a war story, the humor goes black. So tonally it twists and turns but remains a cohesive narrative. The story was spectacular, and the performances top-notch (although I’m sure I lost nuance in translation; apropos, there’s a hilarious scene pointing up the uselessness of phrasebooks). Technical details are likewise spectacular: there are a lot of effects and they’re used effectively, not just for the tedious blood and guns and bombs of war, but also for moments of breathtaking beauty: a cloud of butterflies, a rain of popcorn (don’t ask). The incidental music is extremely good but in some ways jarring: it’s Joe Hisachi doing what Joe Hisachi does best, which is a match for the overall tone of this film but it still gave me wholly unnecessary Miyazaki flashbacks.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.