Tag Archives: park chan-wook

Thirst – Review

12 Jan

Anyone who reads these reviews knows that I’m a huge fan of South Korean movies. South Korea is actually may favorite market for foreign film because of the amount of beautifully shot films that come out of there. Today we’re going to be looking at a movie made by Park Chan-wook who is prominently known for his cult classic Oldboy, but also for dabbling in the American market with Stoker. I’ve always found the majority of his movies to be beautiful but awfully pretentious. The same can be said for his 2009 film Thirst, although it is far more enjoyable than others like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance.

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Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a Catholic priest who feels that his life should be dedicated more to than just prayer. To make himself feel more fulfilled both with his life and faith, Sang-hyun decides to volunteer to become a test subject to find a cure for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, which has been wiping people out all over the globe. While he does in fact die during the test, he is resurrected when a blood transfusion is performed, but with some unexplainable side effects. Sang-hyun is now cursed with vampirism and survives day to day by stealing blood from hospitals. Life after death becomes even more complicated when he is reunited with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), a childhood acquaintance who insists on becoming a vampire.

This is just such a cool idea for a movie. When done properly, vampire movies can contain some of the coolest and most memorable scenes and characters. Interview With a Vampire is my go to vampire movie, but then there’s the comedic What We Do in the Shadows that also works great as a vampire movie. In Thirst, the biggest draw that separates it from the rest is the fact that a Catholic priest is turned into a vampire. This is an interesting plot point since Catholics believe so strongly in going to either heaven or hell after they die, and this priest is now stuck in this undead state and is forced to drink blood to survive. Another interesting thing is that Park wrote vampirism to be some weird biological side effect to the disease that Sang-hyun volunteered to help find a cure for. It puts an interesting and worldly twist on something that is normally considered supernatural.

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With his other films, Park Chan-wook has shown himself to be highly skilled at creating a visually beautiful movie. While his movies do look beautiful, I’ve always felt that they’ve lacked in terms of telling a story. In both these regards, Thirst is no different. There’s a lot of great looking scenes in this movie that deserve a lot of attention, but Park doesn’t really explore the narrative possibilities to their full potential. There’s a vampire priest that’s engaged in a sexually charged relationship with a woman who feels the need to become a vampire. That should open a lot of doors to utilize different vampire lore or character development, but that doesn’t really happen to the degree it should. With that in mind, there are also a lot of scenes where nothing really happens and just serve to drag the movie out a little bit intead of a scene that could include something that would boost the movie up.

Thirst is an example of a really good movie that gets weighed down by the pretentiousness of the film maker. Park Chan-wook obviously has a lot to say about a lot of things, but he’s conveying these ideas in broken sentences. It’s pretty clear that Park’s main goal was to make a beautiful piece of art, but the art of a movie isn’t just how it looks or sounds. To me, one of the most important pieces to a film is the story. Narrative should never be discounted as not important to making a cinematic work of art, even if it’s something more abstract or experimental. That’s just my personal taste anyway.

I don’t want this review to sound negative because I actually did enjoy Thirst and appreciate the work that Park Chan-wook put into it. It’s actually one of his best movies after Oldboy. I just wish more attention would have been put into the lore of the vampire and more detail added to create a flowing story. I actually highly recommend this film to people who love a good vampire movie, but just don’t expect a completely fulfilling movie.

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Stoker – Review

15 Apr

I feel confidently in saying that when we were all children, we’ve heard a fairy tale in one shape or form. I’m also pretty confident in saying that we’ve probably heard many. For me, it was strange to learn that the fairy tales that I loved growing up were pretty much watered down versions of the original story. This leads me to my review of Stoker. To me, this film is a fairy tale that isn’t watered down, but presented exactly how it should be. Add in a little bit of flair that would please Alfred Hitchcock and that’s exactly what Stoker turns out to be: a twisted fairy tale of repressed psychological issues and a family that can only be described as deeply disturbed.

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India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a teenage girl who was born with senses that are far beyond normal and a personality that leaves her distanced from everyone else except her father. When her father dies on her 18th birthday, India’s mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is left alone and is completely unstable. Her loneliness is soon appeased with the arrival of India’s mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who has apparently been travelling around Europe and most of the world since India was born. As Evelyn becomes more and more infatuated with Charlie, India begins to look at him with an increasing amount of disdain and suspicion, especially when people around the house and neighborhood begin to go missing. As the mystery thickens, even India, herself, can not help but become increasingly drawn to Charlie which may lead to India releasing what’s been bottling up inside her for eighteen years.

The collaboration that made Stoker possible is as strange as the plot is. The screenplay was written by Wentworth Miller, who was made famous by being the lead role in the television show Prison Break. In the director’s chair is the Korean film maker Park Chan-wook, known for directing films like Oldboy and Thirst. Composing the music is one of my favorite film composers Clint Mansell, known for his exceptional score to Requiem for a Dream. Finally, producing this film is Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, which is the last movie he ever produced before his death. When I was watching the credits for this film, I really couldn’t believe how strange of a combination this all was, but it was an excellent combination nonetheless.

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While everyone involved makes Stoker what it is, there’s no denying that some of the people involved had more to do with how good the movie turned out than others did. What I’m trying to say is that although Miller’s screenplay is essential to the film, it’s really Park Chan-wook’s impressive visuals that make the film more than an ode to Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. What is visually present is, at times, more interesting than the story itself. Park has created a modern day Victorian/Gothic style that is really interesting and works with Miller’s screenplay. As cool and disturbing as the story is, Miller’s dialogue just isn’t very good which means that the times where there were no dialogue had to be extra intriguing, and they were.

Along with Park Chan-wook, major credit is given to the cast for portraying their characters in the eeriest of ways. Mia Wasikowska is quiet and broods throughout the entire movie which really gives us a hint of what she’s really capable of. Nicole Kidman shows us an unbalanced widow in a not very obvious way which makes her character interesting. My personal favorite is Matthew Goode who keeps that shit eating grin on his face the entire movie and makes the audience really love just how smug and secretive he really is. Another star of Stoker is actually someone related to the post-production phase. This person is Nicolas De Troth, the editor of the movie. The editing is so precise and seems so meticulous that it really makes this film one of a kind when it comes to the post-production. The sound design is also spectacular, really keeping with the idea that India’s senses are heightened. Even the smallest sound is heard perfectly, which made me feel like I could really hear what she was hearing. From the sound to the visual cues and cuts, Stoker was just a marvel to watch even though the Academy would go nowhere near something as disturbing as this movie is.

Stoker is definitely one of the best movies to come out in 2013, and it’s really a shame that it wasn’t recognized at all by the Academy. But, we all know that the Academy Awards are all very P.C. and Stoker is pretty much the opposite of P.C. That’s what I love it though. That and just how well made it is. I had no doubt in my mind that it was going to be a darkly beautiful film, but actually seeing it made me realize just how much detail was put into constructing this modern day Hitchcockian fairy tale. That description should be enough to make anyone curious enough to check this movie out.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance – Review

18 Jan

Finally, we have come to the third and final film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy. Taking a cue from the name of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance comes Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. In order for me to start talking about this movie, I want to look back at the other two. I said that Oldboy is a modern masterpiece that will go down as one of the greatest films ever made, and after seeing Lady VengeanceSympathy for Mr. Vengeance is so much better. I appreciate how I wasn’t confused for most of the movie and that the story was cool. It’s a really good movie. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is a muddled, pretentious soap opera that went on for too long and made me wish I was watching one of the predecessors.

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Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young Ae) is faced with a prison sentence of thirteen years after she confesses to the abduction and murder of a five year old boy. After she serves her time and uses her polite demeanor to her advantage, making a lot of friends in prison, she starts her quest to get revenge on Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik), the man who kidnapped and threatened her infant daughter if she didn’t take the blame for the abduction and murder of the boy. First, Geum-ja has to reunite with her daughter Jenny (Kwon Yea-young), but soon turns back to her original mission, and she makes sure she isn’t the only one who is getting revenge.

This movie really is a soap opera, and can also be seen as further proof that a great director can get a little bit too full of himself. The biggest problem here is the motivation of the story. In Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, the motivation of vengeance and redemption were strong and pushed the characters towards a climax. In Lady Vengeance, I never really felt like the plot was going anywhere fast. All of the flashbacks, subplots, and characters were more of a distraction than they were interesting. In fact, the subplot involving Geum-ja’s daughter isn’t interesting at all, and Kwon Yea-young was just annoying.

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I may sound like a broken record here, but Sympathy for Lady Vengeance looks fantastic. Park Chan-wook pulls out all of the stops here in terms of style, and creates some of the nicest shots and transitions in the entire trilogy. It can be haunting and it can be beautiful. The costume design for Geum-ja is also really nice and adds a lot to her character and speaks for the transformation she made from innocent young girl, to a violent woman bent on revenge. Style is what this movie really has going for it. The soundtrack is also an excellent companion to the visuals, but style isn’t everything in a movie.

I want to like the story. I really do, but I just can’t. This would have been a good start to the trilogy because compared to the other two, the story in this one is underwhelming as hell. It isn’t even the fault of the way the story is composed. It just doesn’t have the gusto and the energy that the other two movies have. I found myself constantly checking to see how much time was left in the movie, and there were some parts where my mind would drift to some other thing because the story and the energy of this movie just wasn’t enough to keep my mind occupied.

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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is the weakest entry in the Vengeance trilogy, and is just an all around weak movie. There is a lot of potential with the style and the characters, which are played just fine, but there isn’t enough in this movie that really makes it all that suspenseful or exciting. One may argue that this is more of a drama than a thriller, but the drama is a little too hokey at parts and felt kind of like a soap opera. Just because there are a few cool or intense scenes in this movie doesn’t help pull Sympathy for Lady Vengeance from the muck.

Oldboy – Review

17 Jan

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy, left me wanting more. It was definitely a good movie, but I can’t say that it was a great movie. In 2003, however, audiences were treated to and shocked by Oldboy. Every film student in the world has heard of this movie and I can almost guarantee that any film fanatic has seen this at least once. The first time I saw this movie, I really enjoyed it, but felt like I was missing a lot of the hype. After this second viewing, I understand completely. Oldboy is more than just a thriller. It’s also a mystery, dark comedy, and action film with strong roots in Shakespearean and Grecian tragedies.

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Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is an average Seoul businessman with a wife and daughter, who has believed to have lived a normal life. One night, Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and placed in a room for fifteen years. While in the room, Oh Dae-su changes and becomes psychologically twisted and thirsty for revenge. When he is let out after fifteen years, Oh Dae-su starts his quest for revenge and meets Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), a chef who is willing to help him out, despite her not even knowing anything about him. As the kidnapper is revealed as millionaire Woo-jin Lee (Yoo Ji-tae), the mystery becomes even more intriguing. Instead of who locked Oh Dae-su in a room, he has to figure out why, and the answers may push him to the edge of his sanity.

If you were to take all of the good things from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, like the excellent blocking, cinematography, and story, and then take away how awful the plotting of that movie is, you still wouldn’t have Oldboy. In order to describe how great Oldboy is you would have to add in a mixture of excellent suspense combined with spot on pacing, and only then would you see how excellent Oldboy is. This is one of those essential pieces of film that everyone should see if they are interested in film. It’s more than just a bloody thriller. It’s a look into the darkest parts of human psychology where revenge and murder are just part of a person’s life.

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This has a very similar artistic style to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. In terms of set design, this is a dirty looking movie, but once again Park Chan-wook has shown how he has a talent for creating beauty amongst the grime. His lensing in this movie is fantastic, but his interesting use of the camera doesn’t stop there. One scene in particular that stands out is a huge fight scene shot from the side of a corridor that was filmed in one continuous take. It isn’t rare for editors to hide cuts into takes as long as these, but this shot was 100% done in one take. Every shot is composed wonderfully, which once again shows that Park has one of the best eyes in the international film industry.

As great as Oldboy looks, it wouldn’t have worked without Choi Min-sik’s excellent performance. Oh Dae-su is a very complicated character with a lot of ups and downs, and Choi plays it with spot on perfection. There are scenes where he is smiling, but we sense all of the inner pain that is boiling beneath the surface, and other times where his acting shows all of the anger and hate. The climax of the movie, which really shows comparisons between Shakespearean and Grecian tragedies, really highlights Choi’s abilities and is one of the best onscreen performances I have ever seen.

Oldboy is one of the best films ever made, and deserves to be on the same lists as classic films. In its own right, it is a contemporary classic that will go down in film history. It’s a poetic story of violence, love, and revenge that shows a side of humanity that people don’t normally like to see. Choi Min-sik gives an excellent performance, and Park Chan-wook shows his talent as a film maker and story teller. If you haven’t seen this Oldboy, it is your responsibility to see it as quickly as possible.

Three… Extremes – Review

10 Oct

Asian horror is one of my personal favorite genres and has been creeping more and more into American culture by remakes and just by curious film enthusiasts out to see something new and exciting. Exciting is just what I would call really good Asian horror films. Exciting, and…well, extreme. Three different directors from three different countries band together for Three… Extremes, a collection of horror films that attempt to take the genre to a whole new level.

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The first film in this group of three is Dumplings from the Chinese director Fruit Chan.

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An aging woman (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) is obsessed with finding a way to bring back her youthful look. She finds help with Mei (Bai Ling) and her home made dumplings, which have been known to have a physical rejuvenating quality. What this woman doesn’t know is the secret ingredient that Mei uses for her dumplings, and the means that she goes through in order to please her customers.

Dumplings is one of those movies that actually got to me, and even worse made me lightheaded. This is, without a doubt, one of the most uncomfortable films that I have ever sat through. Fruit Chan isn’t as much of a horror director as the other film makers in this anthology, but he succeeds in such a way that I was actually very surprised. What really helps this segment along is Christopher Doyle’s work as cinematographer. Doyle combines gritty and sophisticated lighting to really show a contrast in the different locations. This is a disturbing trip into a hell that I’m not too excited to go to again any time soon. Unfortunately for me, Dumplings was also released as a feature separate from this anthology and I’m curious enough to check it out.

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The next film in the anthology is by Korean director Park Chan-wook titled Cut.

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A famous director (Byung-hun Lee) is known not only for his talent when it comes to film making, but also for being a very nice and accommodating man. After a day of filming, he comes home to find his house completely empty, save for an intruder who knocks the director unconscious. Waking up on the set, the director finds himself face to face with the intruder (Won-Hie Lim) and his two hostages: the director’s wife (Hye-jeong Kang), whose fingers are glued to the piano, and a small child. He is then forced to play this stranger’s sick game to determine who is walking out of this in one piece.

Out of the three short films, this one if my favorite for a lot of reasons. Park Chan-wook’s use of camera movement and editing really makes this unique. Along with the nice camera and editing work, the set design is really awesome. It’s this off kilter gothic kind of set that just doesn’t seem quite right, and I mean that as a compliment. Finally, despite it being a horror film with a strong element of torture, it is also darkly comedic. This has a lot to do with the editing, but also Won-Hie Lim is also a great vocal and physical actor that we are frightened by his madness, but can’t help laughing at him. Cut stands above the other two and will not be forgotten.

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Finally, from Japan, we have Takashi Miike and his segment, Box.

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Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) has been having a horrifying dream of being buried alive. As if her subconscious torment wasn’t enough, she has been haunted by the ghost of a little girl, thought to be her long lost sister, Shoko, who shows up in her apartment complex. In order to understand these dreams, Kyoko must search deep within her memories to those that have been locked away. The cerebral quest takes her to an all too familiar place where she has to face the demons of her past head on, all the while learning that her night mares aren’t too far from the truth.

Out of all of these short films, I’m really disappointed to say, that this one didn’t really do much for me. I’m upset about this because I really enjoy Takashi Miike as a film maker, and I know that he is capable of horror on a much grander scale than this. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a beautiful movie to look at with really nice contrasts when it comes to the lights and the darks. Unfortunately, the story is told in such a way that it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the shorts. It plays out as sort of a head trip, with very little that is extreme about it. One scene played out like some of Miike’s best work, but I had a hard time not only following this one, but staying interested.

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Three… Extremes is almost a perfect anthology film, with only the final segment really dragging it down. In that way, it really feels uneven because of the high intensity of the first two, and than the slow, cerebral pace of the final one. I almost wish that it was ordered in reverse order. Maybe than the movie wouldn’t feel so sloshy. Still, to any extreme horror fan, Three… Extremes is a must see.