Director - Park Chan Wook
I had heard a lot of very good things about this film and almost everyone I knew who had seen it was telling me that I really really had to see it too. I have had the film in my possession for a while and finally today got round to watching it.... and WOW.... what a film.
I had a vague idea of the plot (man is kidnapped, imprisoned for 15 years and released - all without an explanation) and that it was allegedly excellent. I also had knowledge that there was a scene where someone ate a live octopus. But there endeth my knowledge. Even my film geekery didn't prepare me for what I was about to sit down in front of.
It is a film which is built up of twists. Some fucking massive ones (which I won't mention here) and some little ones which show clever directing. I'm going to mention one now.... so if you're the type of person who doesn't want to know ANYTHING at all about a film look away for one paragraph. Also, if you are that type of person why do you read this blog because I frequently accidentally reveal stuff I shouldn't!
Anyway, the film begins with our hero Dae - Su, holding a man over the edge of a building by his tie. Naturally, the viewer's mind think this is an attack.... after all, this film is the second The Vengeance Trilogy. But no! It turns out that the man dangling by his tie attempted to commit suicide and Dae-Su stopped him. Oh, what a clever reversal of what was expected.... How it perfectly sets the tone to the film.
Let us talk about the film's tone (hello people who skipped the last paragraph, welcome back). From what I had heard about the film, I was expecting it to be dark. Very dark and very brutal. Which is why I was always shocked that my friend Richard spoke so highly of it. As a rule he doesn't like very dark very brutal films...
However, the film has a strong undercurrent of pitch black humour. Some of it solely through the subject matter - which is darkly amusing (if you're a horrible human being like I appear to be) and some of it through the way the film is presented. Although thematically very different, there were times when the tone reminded me of Fight Club: the use of voice over, the dark dark subject matter and the darker humour all pointed in that direction.
However - my ability at pinpointing similar tones maybe somewhat flawed. There were moments when this film made me think of Amelie, and this film is as tonally different to Amelie as it is possible to get! However there were small touches which pushed my thoughts that way, namely within Mido's scenes. She possesses the same naive chirpy facial expressions as Amelie, and the colour scheme which follows her in some scenes. However, I think it is mostly the fact that Mido's theme (the Last Waltz) has the same kind of feel and vibe as many of the tunes in the Amelie soundtrack. Music is a powerful tool....
The music also helps affect other scenes. Such as the fight scenes. I don't know what it is about western cinema but we are yet to touch on the beauty and almost ballet like elegance that Eastern cinema seems to effortlessly capture in their fight scenes. The fight scenes also touch on an interesting concept, which is the intimidating nature of Dae-Su as a combatant. He is not the greatest fighter in the world, he maybe physically fit but his training was imaginary and he spent his time punching a wall. He probably has very calloused knuckles. However, he is fighting a lot of other very fit seasoned fighters, so he isn't at any real advantage against them. However, what he has going for him is determination. A near insane persistence and craving for vengeance which means that what ever punishment he receives, he will scrape himself up from the floor and attack again. He doesn't stop after anything - not even knives to the back stop him from fighting - and that is truly frightening!
This is a film that is very very laden down by exposition - in fact, the last act basically consists of an awful lot of talking and a couple of horrifically violent bits that made me squirm and wince. However, the talking needs to be there to tell the masses of story which make up the plot, the reasoning and the twist. The only alternative would be that he never found out the reason for his imprisonment... and that would be far too unsatisfactory for the viewer.
It made me feel very dim that I didn't see the twist before it happened, but I didn't - and it was far better than anything I'd though. The pay off was fantastic and made the film so so so enjoyable.
Because of the film's heavy weighting on the twist, there isn't much more that I can say about it without ruining it all.... so I shall finish with some points I wish to make about the cast.
Firstly, the protagonist. Dae-Su is a character that goes through a lot of changes and is testament to the subtle brilliance of Min-sik Choi how effortless those changes seem. From a tired and scared drunken fool through to a rage filled blank eyed killer to the final scenes where he is an exhausted world weary shell, he manages to display this range through facial expression alone (once he stops being a drunken idiot, Dae-Su is a man of very little words). It is very impressive.
And finally, my shallow eye must turn to Ji-tae Yu who could be considered the villain of the piece (it is not that simple). He has a canal in his house.... ridiculous? Yes. Awesome? Also Yes. He has a remote controlled wardrobe which opens up into 4 segments - one of which is exclusively dedicated to cuff links and tiepins.... swoon! The man is a hero.
And it is scientific fact that the easiest way to show instant cool is to have an East Asian man in a smart black suit.
I have never seen it look anything but impossibly cool (and I apologise for the ever so slightly ignorant generalisation in that last bit.... but I have never seen evidence to the contrary)