Top positive review
GREEK TRAGEDY PERVADES REMARKABLE KOREAN VENGEANCE THRILLER.
5 April 2019
This is a review of the excellent All Region Blu-ray from Tartan Asia Extreme.
This Korean film from 2003 is one which will really split the critics! It won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, where it was particularly lauded by the Jury President, Quentin Tarantino. It gets 4 Stars in the BBC’s Radio Times Guide. It also won that most questionable accolade, an American remake. But for many, it will be just too wild a ride. Certainly it contains two of the most stomach-churning scenes that I have ever witnessed in film, one in the first half, another towards the end.
However, although many of the adjectives routinely used about this film are probably justified ~ bloody, brutal, not for the squeamish ~ this is emphatically not just a film swimming in mindless mayhem, visceral violence and grisly gore. It does not set out just to shock, but also to REALLY make you think. And there is even humour at times. Consequently, I would advise you to watch this film with another film fan, because you will need someone to discuss it with afterwards. My husband and I sat and discussed it for a long time.
Most Western criticism focusses on the violence, and clearly sees the film as a vehicle for Asian Martial Arts. Certainly, some of the action is remarkable: one fight, in a corridor, took 3 days to capture. However, the Director, Park Chan-wook, took Greek tragedy as his inspiration, and in Korea, this is the context used by critics. I won’t over-elaborate, because I don’t want to reveal the plot twists, but there are a large number of clues: the amazing yoga pose by the villain Lee Woo-jin, which alludes to Apollo’s symbol, the bow; the apparent difference in age between exact contemporaries Lee Woo-jin and the hero Oh Dae-su; the character of the heroine Mi-do, drawing upon Sophocles' Antigone; the actions of the hypnotist being analogous to those of Aphrodite, during the Trojan Wars. There are several others.
The three characters named are played with remarkable authority and authenticity by the actors. Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su is particularly remarkable. He changes from a very ordinary middle-aged Salary Man to a desperate prisoner to a driven, possessed vengeance-bringer, and is utterly believable in each role.
The ending, shot in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, is fascinating, and deeply ambiguous. Apparently, this was deliberate and calculated by Park Chan-wook. He wanted to generate discussion, and heaven knows, he certainly succeeded!