Must see Korean movies

Discussion in 'DVD' started by ChrisYK, Feb 9, 2004.

  1. ChrisYK

    ChrisYK Stunt Coordinator

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    As a new member, I thought that I'd share these titles (in no particular order) with you guys. Of course, I am not an overly critical viewer by any stretch of the imagination and most of these titles are included for sheer entertainment value, but I thought I'd share my thoughts nonetheless. The titles are the more common english translations.

    1. Sex is Zero - an American (Korean?) Pie-like comedy. One of the grossest and funniest Korean movies I have seen to date. The thing with comedies though is that unless it is physical comedy, much of the humor is lost in the translation of the subtitles and/or because of cultural differences. Not a bad thing per se but a legitimate issue nonetheless.

    2. My Tutor Friend - about a 20 year-old high school student being tutored by a college girl his age. I guess I would characterize it as a romantic comedy, but I enjoyed it more than my wife did.

    3. My Boss, My Hero - about a gangster sent back to high school by the Don to get his diploma before he can run part of the "family" business. Very funny.

    4. Tell Me Something - a mystery/thriller in the genre of Silence of the Lambs about a cop trying to track down and catch a serial killer. DO NOT rent the VHS tape as it was edited in such a way that it does not make any sense.

    5. J.S.A. - a story about a night that goes wrong at the DMZ separating North and South Korea. The story is told in a manner similar to A Few Good Men (an ongoing investigation interspersed with flashbacks), but it works very well in this case.

    Gotta go but will add more to the list!
     
  2. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    I'd add Failan and Chihwaseon.

    Failan is a stunning film that doesn't really play things in order, but by the time the journey is finished you've come to know the characters and are hit with a powerful and honest emotional suckerpunch at the end. Incredible film.

    Chihwaseon is beautiful to look at and that's enough of a recommendation. But it's also one of the best biopics of an artist I've ever seen. The character is somewhat romanticized but it doesn't detract from the film.


    If you have the stomach, I'd recommend Gojitmal (Lies) a film that should be seen, and shouldn't be seen. Very disturbing borderline pornographic film, but interesting to watch nonetheless.

    Adam
     
  3. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    I've heard very good things about Old Boy, which appeared on a few "Best of '03" lists.

    I recommend The Way Home.
     
  4. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    Korean cinema is fantastic, probably the closest to Hollywood in terms of production quality and aesthetics. It's no wonder it's one of the few places, if not THE only place, where domestic cinema regularly beats Hollywood product at the boxoffice. Doubtless this has something to do with their screen quota system, which I firmly believe should be in place in a far greater number of countries currently suffering at the hands of the Hollywood juggernaut, but credit must be given to their filmmakers, who manage walk both sides of the art/commerce line with ease, catering to both the high-concept and art-house crowds. Kudos to them as well for not signing their films into oblivion with MiramAXE pictures the way so many Hong Kong filmmakers have done. Granted, we will likely be seeing a tonne of inferior American remakes of some truly enjoyable Korean films in the years ahead (Hi Dharma, My Wife Is A Gangster, My Sassy Girl), but hopefully that won't mean the originals will be withheld from general consumption (at least for those who aren't region-free savvy or avowed fans of world cinema). Hopefully. At any rate, there doesn't seem to be any restrictions on popular Korean DVDs the way there is with certain "key" Hong Kong titles.

    That said, some other recommendations:

    MY SASSY GIRL (2001): At the time of its release, this was the number two Korean box-office hit of 2001 (after the much gloomier FRIEND). Clever story of a layabout student who briefly looks after a drunken girl who, at first, seems to represent everything he dislikes in a woman, but who's complicated nature keeps him from simply walking away. Very perceptive study of contemporary relationships, particularly in Korea, and surprisingly balanced in light of the uniquely Korean tendency toward hyper-melodrama. Granted, the first climax will have you bawling, while the second nicely folds the narrative back to the beginning of the film. Long, but extremely rewarding.

    2009 LOST MEMORIES (2002): Fantastic action thriller set in an alternate future in which Korea is just another Japanese state, and Koreans have largely lost their identity. A Korean-blooded, Japanese-named cop slowly realizes that the terrorists he's paid to wipe out are actually Korean freedom-fighters trying to restore the timeline to its proper state. This film gets slagged nearly everywhere, so I defend it whenever possible. It's a big, loud, arguably overblown "blockbuster" that deals with a very sensitive subject: Korean identity. People have, I believe, unfairly examined and criticized this film on two fronts: one, it's inherent patriotism, which is an element of Korean cinema that seems to alienate so many non-Korean viewers and yet is a fundamental part of the culture, probably more so than in any other Asian country (let alone much of the world). And two, the historical events behind it's "science fiction," which nearly everybody I've read gets wrong. The key plot device of the film is NOT simply that Japan won World War II, but that the legendary Korean patriot Ahn Chung-gun FAILED in his assassination of Japanese foreign minister Ito Hirobumi in China in 1909 (thus, sort of, the setting of the title). This single event is extremely important to the Korean culture and not only is their a gigantic memorial named after Ahn, but also a form of Tae Kwon Do. Looking these two names up on the internet greatly aids in understanding the deeper messages this film offers.

    THE WAY HOME (2002). I'll heartily second Angelo M's recommendation of this one. A low budget tale of a terrifying little brat sent to live temporarily with his ancient grandmother in the country while his single mother looks for work in Seoul. Hollywood would turn a movie like this into pure sap, but director Lee Jeong-hyang doesn't offer any easy solutions to the ever growing disconnection of modernized, urban Korean young people from their traditional ancestry. The film often feels like some big catharsis is just around the corner, but wisely never delivers one. The boy changes a bit by the time his mother returns, but he only, suddenly, becomes aware of it when it's too late. And thankfully, NO ONE DIES in this movie, which is usually the case with dramas dealing with the elderly. Definitely leaves you thinking about things, though. Paramount has released this on DVD in North America.

    SHIRI (1999): The one that started it all, reviving a generally moribund Korean cinema into it's high-concept renaissance, turning a sensitive topic political issue into a fantastic action movie as cops Han Suk-kyu and Song Kang-ho race to unmask a band of deadly North Korean terrorists bent on wiping out North and South Korean leaders at a peace-making soccer match, unaware that one "bad guy" is operating right under their noses. Nice to see an action movie where the villains aren't one-dimensional cartoons, which could have been so easy when dealing with North Koreans in the contemporary climate.

    PHONE (2002): Slick thriller in the Ring mode, with a cursed cel phone causing all sorts of trouble for it's new owner.

    THE HARMONIUM IN MY MEMORY (1999): Sweet, simple tale of a naive country girl who gets a crush on her newly-arrived teacher, an engaged, educated city boy who at first dismisses her silly efforts to impress him as so much childish infatuation, but soon comes to realize, thanks to a convenient development in one of the secondary characters, how much she really cares.

    JAKARTA (2000): This one almost never gets mentioned on the Korean film websites, and yet I believe it cracked the top ten that year). It's a twisty comic heist movie about three "teams" of thieves who independently plan to rob the same bank on the same day, which causes no end of pandemonium and confusion, or does it? Clever mid-film twist paints nearly all the characters in a new light and reveals a much more intriguing plot has been afoot all along. Excellent ensemble cast, including SEX IS ZERO leading man Lim Chang-jung. Worth hunting down, and still available at some online retailers. Nice K-pop theme ballad, too.
     
  5. Bleddyn Williams

    Bleddyn Williams Supporting Actor

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    I'd add A Tale of Two Sisters to that list. This is available as an attractive two-disc set from Korea or a barebones HK disc.

    This genuinely creepy tale tells the story of two sisters living with their father and stepmother. As the film goes on you will begin to question exactly what is going on, and I can say no more!

    Sweet transfer and sound on the Korean disc (apparently the HK is practically as good). After watching this, I wondered why we have to look to other countries to provide genuine mystery and mood, now that horror in the US consists of a bit of gore followed by a stupid wisecrack.

    Those of you who were intrigued by the Ring should check it out. Also, not Korean, but worth a look in the Asian horror genre - Dark Water.
     
  6. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    A TALE OF TWO SISTERS is on my "Korean film "to watch" pile. I sprang for the two disc set after all the positive things I've heard about it.

    My girlfriend and I were going to watch it last weekend, but instead opted for TUBE, which I've had a little longer. While I can't highly recommend it, it is kind of fun, provided you don't think too much about the plot, which has a walking stereotype loose-canon cop (Kim Seok-hoon) battling a terrorist (Pak Sang-min) onboard a hijacked subway train. The terrorist is a former government eraser that the government tried, but failed, to erase, and he's taken the train, and Seoul's mayor, hostage to uhh, well, to apparently have the plan be doomed from the start. Equal parts Speed, Money Train and Die Hard, the film has few pretentions, which make it easy on the derriere. Poor Bae Doo-na gets one of the stranger film roles in film history, as a pickpocket who apparently knows she must love the hero even before she KNOWS the hero, and creates all the necessary Korean histrionics along the way (as well as almost bearing more physical brutality than the hero!) while our glowering protagonist poses with a series of unlit cigarettes in his mouth (and which only one person will ever be allowed to light, care to guess who?).

    I have to echo Bleddyn's thoughts on US horror films. I'm absolutely sick of what passes for horror films these days. If I have to see one more movie poster with a sexy array of pouting teens beneath some ominous figure or logo I'm gonna head home and come reeling back with a shotgun (for the poster displays, of course). And then the films themselves! My GOD, can they GET any more derivative. I keep hearing about remakes of Asian horror movies in the pipeline but you know what, I just don't give a shit anymore. I'm so far into the Asian horror films that no Hollywood remake of a movie I saw three years ago is really going to impress me. Maybe they should spend more time finding NEW screenplays by North American writers who WEREN'T infected by the post-SCREAM virus that can challenge us on the same level as excellent Asian horror fare like DARK WATER, INNER SENSES, PULSE, PHONE, CURE, RING, RING 2, RING VIRUS, RING AROUND THE COLLAR, INTO THE MIRROR, UNTOLD SCANDAL, MEMENTO MORI, WISHING STAIRS, SORUM, THE ISLE, HYPNOSIS, SHIKOKU, JUON (theatrical version), PERFECT BLUE and so many others I'm probably forgetting.

    But, as this is a thread devoted to the wonderful world of Korean cinema, I'll keep it from turning into an open discussion of Asian-vs-American cinema by recommending a couple more cool Korean flicks:

    BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (AKA A Higher Animal) (2001). Delightful black comedy with a signature role for Bae Doo-na as a plucky girl who witnesses a henpecked student throw a dog that annoyed him off the roof of a neighboring apartment building, and proceeds to hunt him down for the rest of the movie. Things get funkier when the guy realizes he tossed the wrong animal! One memorable scene has crusader Bae, in her ubiquitous yellow windbreaker, chasing the villain across rooftops in slow motion, while in the background, hundreds of imagined onlookers, also in her trademark attire, cheer her on! Many may cringe at the apartment janitor with an affinity for dog meat, but the filmmakers wisely treat this as an everyday occurence - not some shock gross-out thing as most Westerners might be inclined to expect - and acknoledge it as part of the culture.

    DITTO (2000): If you CAN handle Korean schmaltz and like a good cry, this sorta-sci-fi romance will do the trick. Taking a cue from the Hollywood film FREQUENCY, it deals with a female student who meets a fellow student via her shortwave radio - only he's in 2000 and she's in 1979. This gorgeously filmed story manages to defy expectations twice, first when the guy realizes the girl knows the people who will become his parents and is, in fact,

    secretly in love with the man who becomes his father


    and second, at the climax, when the guy decides to see how life turned out for the girl and finds a rather bittersweet answer. Great date movie, provide your date isn't too cynical.

    IL MARE (2001) Another soapy time-travel romance that, if you watch it in the right frame of mind, could have you in tears. It's about a guy who finds a letter in the mailbox of his new seaside rental house from the previous tenant advising him about little things that haven't happened yet, like the paw prints his dog leaves on the floor days later! In trying to meet the woman who wrote the letter, he come to realize she lives about a year or two ahead of him in the timeline, and lived in the house after he vacated it. He asks her to find him in the future, but she can't... Like DITTO, the film manages to defy conventions on a couple of occasions, and it's internal logic is solid enough that you don't think about it too hard. Another great date film, again provided you're not too cynical about such things.

    Oh, there's just so many more...
     
  7. Bleddyn Williams

    Bleddyn Williams Supporting Actor

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    Just to say cheers to Brian for the list of Asian horror titles. There are a number that I am unfamiliar with and look forward to researching them!

    One question - what is the best version of Ju-on to buy? DVD-Basen doesn't have hardly any reviews for this film.

    Okay - back to Korea![​IMG]
     
  8. ChrisYK

    ChrisYK Stunt Coordinator

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    Wow... I didn't think there would be so many excellent response to this post. I was doing it as more of an exercise for myself. I enjoy all Asian cinema, but I have to agree that Korean cinema seems the most polished. Of course I am be biased because I'm Korean, but the quality of the movies coming out of Korea especially in the past several years has really impressed me. Some additions to my list:

    1. The Way Home - I won't say much more about it as Brian has written an excellent review/synopsis, but definitely a movie very much worth seeing. An interesting fact: the grandmother in the movie is an actual resident of that area of Korea and was cast while filmmakers were scouting the film. I thought that the way her emotions were conveyed without words was extraordinary.

    2. My Sassy Girl - Again, I won't say much. Probably one of the greater international successes of Korean cinema. It's actually based on a true story that the main character had been posting on the internet. I won't ruin the ending of the movie, but apparently the real-life story had a much different (and anticlimactic) ending.

    3. Friend (Chingu) - One of my favorite movies of all time. Really conveys the power of friendship and how it crosses all borders. The way the director depicts Korea in the 70s all the way to the present time is very well done and you get a real sense of chronological change. This movie, too, is based on a true story. In fact, the gangster that has his friend executed is still in jail in South Korea
    .

    4. Attack the Gas Station - a very funny movie, also one of my all-time favorites. The story takes place in a single night when a group of thugs who decide to rob a gas station decide to run the place to make money off the gas they sell. Hilarious.

    5. No. 3 - The Korean gangster comedy that started it all for all the Korean gangster comedies that have been spewing out recently. Another very funny movie about a gangster trying to clean.

    6. The Promise - my wife's favorite movie. Essentially a love story between a gangster and a physician with whom he falls in love with.

    7. Mutt - I enjoyed this movie very much without really knowing why... for me, that is the sign of great characters that seem very real as do the situations they get into. Essentially a coming-of-age story about a "loser" played by Jung Woo-Sung. Very well-acted. I was impressed because Jung Woo-Sung is known for playing the ladies' man.

    I'll leave it at that for now, but keep them coming guys!
     
  9. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    Bleddyn, My Juon is the Hong Kong R3 disc of the theatrical release.

    http://www.dddhouse.com/dddhouse/en/...productID=3203

    Here's a review from Midnight Eye

    http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/juon.shtml


    There were two made-for-video features made before it, but I'm not sure if you can find those subtitled (I have them, but they're unsubbed). They were apparently so successful that they begat the full-length movie. The theatrical feature is basically a distillation of elements of both the earlier efforts and is extremely creepy with the lights out! Personally, I prefer the theatrical version to the video versions. Apparently, there's a theatrical sequel as well.

    Back to the topic at hand, and another great Korean film

    BICHUNMOO (2001). This is a fantastic period swordplay film, based on a Korean comic book, with a nice tragic love story, wicked HK-style choreography, stunning costumes and glossy production values. The soundtrack blends traditional orchestrations with pounding percussive rock beats during the fight scenes and, as such, is surprisingly effective. I'm sure this movie's been written up in these forums before, as it is available in the US (through Tai Seng, I believe), so folks likely found it at their local Best Buy. Leading man Shin Hyun-june has a brooding face that was practically designed for a role like this. The Korean DVD of the film is uncut.
     
  10. ChrisYK

    ChrisYK Stunt Coordinator

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    Another interesting fact:

    My friend had a bit part in JAKARTA. He's the limo driver [​IMG]
     
  11. Amy Mormino

    Amy Mormino Supporting Actor

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    There are some really interesting Korean movies being made right now. I was in Seoul last year and you could go to these "DVD rooms" where you could choose a movie and sit in a comfy room and watch it. I could get English subtitles and enjoy the cream of Asian film. It was great (though I suspect the rooms are often used for sex)!

    One movie I'd recommend is "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance", which I think is by the same guy who did the aforementioned "JSA". It got some attention when Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News chose it as his favorite movie last year. Be warned, though, its extremely dark and downbeat. But the acting and audacity of it all are very impressive.
     
  12. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    Sounds like being Korean you've got the homefield advantage Chris. Do you watch a lot of films that were never released with Engilsh subs (assuming you speak Korean, of course)? I remember going to Korean grocery stores a few years ago and seeing the videos lining the shelves, all without subtitles. Thankfully, DVD made things so much easier, but the Koreatown in Toronto (about 3 hours away from me) is still tough sledding for those looking for K-DVDs, although it does have one of Amy's "DVD Room" places that I'd kill to spend some time in (for the films, of course)!

    London, Ontario, which is a little bit closer, has a sizeable Korean community and they now have a new Korean plaza with a video rental store in it. Still mostly unsubbed stuff (and Korean-subbed American films), but a great place to see what's new! And for a "bignose" like me to really stand out like a sore thumb. [​IMG]

    That said, one release I'm extremely anxious to see is TAEGUKGI, the new film from Kang Je-gyu, director of Shiri, and starring Jang Dong-gun (the good cop from 2009 Lost Memories) and Wong Bin. It's the most expensive movie yet made in Korean history, a tale of two brothers during the Korean war (although the romantic stuff, at least in the trailer looks like its been filtered through contemporary sensibilities for maximum audience impact). Here's a link to the review at Koreanfilm.org. It gets a mixed review from them, but click the link at the end of it for the trailer, which looks spectacular:

    http://www.koreanfilm.org/kfilm04.html#taegukgi

    There's also a nice Korean-language website for the film:
    http://www.taegukgi2004.com/
     
  13. Matthew Chmiel

    Matthew Chmiel Cinematographer

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    Volcano High

    Think The Matrix meets Big Trouble In Little China meets Harry Potter meets X-Men.

    Available in a 100 minute international cut R0 DVD from MegaStar (HK) and a 121 minute Korean cut R3 DVD available from CinemaService (Korea).

    It's too bad that one cannot purchase the discs in America now as Distant Horizon has the rights to the film and sold them to MTV. [​IMG]
     
  14. ChrisBEA

    ChrisBEA Screenwriter

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    Let's see....
    Volcano High, Shiri, Attack the Gas Station, JSA, The Quiet Family.
     
  15. David Lawson

    David Lawson Screenwriter

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    DDDHouse still has the Mega Star version available for around $14US plus shipping.

    I'll chime in with praise for Failan (the second half of the film is incredible) and Ditto as well.
     
  16. ChrisYK

    ChrisYK Stunt Coordinator

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    Brian, I do admit I have the homefield advantage. It makes it a little easier to find Korean movies to watch when you actually speak and understand the language [​IMG] .

    Some more evidence pointing the the "boom" of Korean cinema is the fact that when I type in "Korean DVD" in the eBay search field, I get back 13 pages of results where just 12-18 months ago, I'd be lucky to get back even two pages of results. Speaking of those DVDs I've found on eBay, I've bought several and I've found that the quality is quite good for most of them. Most of them tend to be of the bare-boned Hong Kong sort, but the picture and audio quality are great. Of course, I've sometimes ended up with copies that are obviously less-than kosher :wink:.

    A good source of Asian DVDs with a very wide selection is yesasia.com... the prices are a little on the high side, but they often have some good deals.
     
  17. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    The Hong Kong edition of Volcano High School is considerably shorter than the Korean DVD, although the cut footage is included as "deleted scenes."

    YeonDVD, an affiliate of koreanfilm.org, still sells the superior Korean 2-disc set, if anybody's interested.
    http://www.yeondvd.com/horror.html#volcano

    Another, arguably great Korean film is

    RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL (2002), an ambitious cyber-punk actioner from the director of 2000's LIES and 1996's A PETAL. It's one of the few Korean films I've seen that has polarized audiences as much as it has. An expensive failure upon its first release, the film has, with a couple of repeat viewings on DVD, started to grow on me, not that I didn't like it in the first place. The narrative has a socially disaffected gamer attempting to make the title game character fall in love with him before she dies while fending off an array of well-armed oddballs. Eventually though, she rebels against the system with a Great Big Gun. There's a tricky blur between real world and game world in this often maddeningly vague film, and I'm still not sure I've read all the director's messages correctly, or if he even makes them at all, but the visuals are so enticing, the action so deliberately overblown, and the philosophy so seemingly just out of reach, it's tough to stop watching (and watching again). I suspect that this film will develop a strong cult following in the years to come, with even many of those who absolutely hated it reapproaching it from different angles and perhaps finding new meaning in it. Despite it's Korean setting and cast, it's probably the least Korean-feeling Korean film I've yet seen, generally eschewing themes of identity and patriotism as well as the maudlin melodramatics so often found in Korean cinema. Somehow, I suspect that was all intentional. Unfortunately, the Korean DVD of this title had no English subs, so most people who've seen it subbed have had to spring for the bootleg.

    Chris,

    Anyanghaseyo!

    I've used yesasia.com for many of my K-DVD purchases as it seems to have the best selection. Pokerindustries.com isn't bad either, but tends to be a little more on average. On films I'm less familiar with, I will usually get the HK region 3 versions, which are always quite cheap.
     
  18. Kenneth_C

    Kenneth_C Second Unit

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    When I saw this thread, that's the first title that came to mind. An extremely powerful and unsettling film -- one of the most disturbing I've ever seen. Bleak with a capital "B".

    Another title which hasn't been mentioned is Say Yes. It plays like a Korean version of The Hitcher, but with far greater emotional depth and horror.
     
  19. Tim RH

    Tim RH Second Unit

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    I recommend "MEMORIES OF MURDER" (2003, R1&3 Korean DVD), "UNTOLD SCANDAL" (2003, R3 only), "TAKE CARE OF MY CAT" (2000, R0), "SAVE THE GREEN PLANET!" (2003, R3 only), and the Lee Chang-dong Collection which includes all three of the director's great masterpieces - "GREEN FISH" (1997, R0), "PEPPERMINT CANDY" (2000, R0) and "OASIS" (2002, R3). I have many more I could tell you about, but a lot of them have been covered pretty well in this thread so far. Needless to say, I love Korean films too! [​IMG]
     
  20. Patrick Cate

    Patrick Cate Stunt Coordinator

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