Odd Couple: The Surprising “Trainwreck” and the Underwhelming “Northern Limit Line”

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader awkwardly fall for each other while a Korean film tackling important history finds itself mired in a quandary of TV drama-esque quality.

Trainwreck

This is more of a romantic comedy than you’d expect, but the difference is you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable watching it if you’re a guy. It’s well-made, especially for the genre it finds itself in, and there are plenty of cameos from the likes of John Cena, LeBron James, Amare Stoudemire, and even Marv Albert to quell your petty insecurities.

It’s a funny film that, for once, showcases Amy Schumer’s talents without focusing too much on her tendency to be super crass and nasty. While there are certainly moments where she gives a “retro” performance, if you will, most of the time she embraces a role where she actually needs to develop her comedic ability.

She really succeeds, too.

A pretty common belief in cinema is that comedians are better at doing drama than dramatic actors are at doing comedy – there are variables that simply make a good comedic actor capable of pulling off drama, whereas someone like Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale might inadvertently be funny, but getting cast in, say, a movie like Anchorman might be a poor decision.

Both Schumer and Bill Hader (fuck that guy) show their acting chops, with Hader simply doing what he’s been doing since he left Saturday Night Live. But he actually plays the straight man for once and more than holds his own against Schumer’s messy, wacky character. He’s pretty convincing as a sports doctor too, since he’s got that vague handsomeness coupled with a dweeb-like foundation.

But the real star of the movie is definitely Schumer, followed closely by LeBron James and maybe Tilda Swinton. There’s a funeral scene where we all get to see her like never before and while I never got teary or anything like that, I really believed she was grieving the loss of someone important.

Speaking of LeBron James, I went in expecting a lot from him based on things I’d read and seen, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. Some of the best scenes included him and watching Bill Hader “compete” against LeBron in basketball was one of the funniest sequences of the year. LeBron’s performance reportedly gave way to a deal with Warner Bros. to give him creative liberty to pursue more film projects, and that means we may get a Space Jam 2, for better or for worse.

While Trainwreck is anything but, I do have to point out its running time is overly long. A lot of the movie is stupid exposition or an attempt to build character development or, I suppose, make this something deeper than what it really is. Part of the movie’s success is undoubtedly built on Amy Schumer’s shoulders and as a result, some of the praise it’s receiving is unjustifiably inflated due to just her name being involved.

This movie is not a trailblazer nor is it revolutionary; still, it’s an above-average film and perhaps even a superb example of a romantic comedy that I think caters well to multiple demographics. That’s a rare thing these days – it’s probably harder to score on LeBron (or get John Cena to talk dirty in bed).

Northern Limit Line

Not many people know this, but the Korean War technically never ended. The two sides signed an armistice, which is basically a temporary truce/ceasefire, and that was the “end” of that. As a result, tensions have been known to get pretty high and you can bet South Korea is always on its toes when the heart of the country, Seoul, is a mere thirty miles from the DMZ.

While many people have heard of the DMZ, there’s a maritime version called the Northern Limit Line (NLL). It hugs the North Korean coastline like a stalker and to make matters much more complicated, it’s a border North Korea doesn’t officially recognize. That means they constantly test it and it also means South Korean patrol boats are a norm in the Yellow Sea.

In 2002, a naval skirmish broke out and a lot of Koreans died from both sides. It was bad on multiple levels, with one level being the fact that South Korea and Japan were co-hosting the FIFA World Cup at the time.

Northern Limit Line‘s gimmick, if you will, is showing South Korean civilians celebrating the country’s surprising advance after surprising advance while we get to see into the lives of South Korean naval patrolmen. It’s a dichotomy that should work well, in theory, but the movie doesn’t do as much as it could to really make a mark.

A lot of Korean films – especially the ones that are less established internationally – use a terrible form of filmmaking where a lot of the content looks like it came out of a Korean drama. I mean that in a purely visual sense. While I don’t expect Terrence Malick, Jeff Nichols, or even Zack Snyder in every movie I see, too many Korean films use drab, conventional cinematography that is indistinguishable from their television counterparts.

To make matters worse, Northern Limit Line embraces a soap drama type of feeling, which means it’s actually kind of difficult to care about the characters involved. Again, while that’s not a direct correlation with a movie’s quality (I didn’t care, per se, about the characters in Black Hawk Down but that’s a really good war flick), you would think as a Korean-American that I feel something – anything, at all.

That might explain why the last twenty minutes or so – post-climatic battle – are a scrambling mess that uneasily transition from fictional adaptation to real footage from 2002, like watching parents of the fallen patrolmen wailing in anguish at a funeral ceremony. Those moments hit like bricks, of course, but I would argue the merit in including those.

Couldn’t one argue that a truly successful film conveys the inherent damage of warfare, even on a skirmish level, without having to resort to dirty tricks like that? Isn’t it more impressive if the end result was achieved without having to watch grainy footage of caskets and stern admirals sitting in metal folding chairs?

It very well might be a cultural thing; we are nationalistic on a whole different level and it’s because of all the atrocities we’ve been through, like with the Japanese for hundreds of years, and the Korean War itself of course. It’s also because of how fast and high we’ve risen from the ashes – we’re smaller than most U.S. states and yet we have a top twenty global economy.

So you can see why a movie about a historical tragedy tries to provide as much real perspective as possible.

Also, one of the redeeming aspects of Northern Limit Line is the climactic battle in itself. That’s when you see that classic Korean grit you get in movies like Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War and even movies like The Man from Nowhere. It’s aggressively violent and in that regard, provokes some strong emotions.

Unfortunately, I have to say with a heavy heart that it’s simply not enough to make Northern Limit Line a worthy representative of 2002’s naval skirmish. It’s decent, but what happened deserves the best.

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