These unconventional films show off the talents of some "rising stars" in Korea—both directors and actors. Indeed, tonight Rough Cut's star, So Ji-Sub, will be honored by the presentation of the Rising Star Asia Award at the New York Asian Film Festival. To say that it's well-deserved would be an understatement. Playing an intense, brooding, and explosive gangster in Rough Cut, So displays a screen presence that's remarkable in its power and appeal. With the sleepy-eyed good looks of Yoo Ji-tae and an attitude that seems to care neither what the characters nor the audience thinks of him, he practically takes over the movie.

Which is not an easy thing to do considering that, as a spoiled action star who leans something about real fighting (and ultimately real violence) from him, Kang Ji-Hwan delivers a very solid performance as well. And with two such capable turns anchoring the film, its power as a brooding character study is undeniable. From its set-up, though, one might be tempted to think Rough Cut is either an all-out action film, or an all-out noir, but it's really neither.

But if one goes in with expectations appropriately calibrated, director Hun Jang's work here becomes much more impressive. Yes, there are a couple of memorable fight scenes, and the ending is brutal, surprising, and satisfying—but ultimately those are just the punctuation marks to a story that's really a meditation on the masculine ego and its relation to pain, honor, friendship, and loyalty.

Interestingly, Rough Cut is paired with Crush and Blush. I can usually handle chick flicks but this one consistently made me uncomfortable—which could be a sign of its effectiveness. While Rough Cut deconstructs the myths of the “bad guy” and the “handsome leading actor,” Crush and Blush does the same for the "good girl" and the "unpopular girl." As the latter, actress Kong Hyo-Jin turns in a performance that is so real and raw that at times it's hard to watch. I had trouble with some of the pacing and how dramatic events unfold toward the end of Crush and Blush, but there's no doubt that director Lee Kyeong-Mi has set her ambitions high and, with the finished film, reached many of them.

The film ostensibly chronicles deceptions and rivalries among a group of women romantically linked to one man, with the man’s teen daughter thrown into the mix as a pawn of sorts. At first I was miffed that the man himself comes across not so much as bland, which he is, but as really underdeveloped as a character. Then it hit me that that’s partly what makes Crush and Blush so radical: in blatantly not even attempting to give “his side” of the narrative, it offers a crypto-feminist critique of the typical "male-gaze" movie that might invert this same approach vis-à-vis a female object of desire. Not an easy film on several levels, Crush and Blush still represents a thoughtful, important work from a first-time director I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from.

Note: Both Kong Hyo-Jin and So Ji-Sub will be present at the screenings of these films at the New York Asian Film Festival tonight.