Sunday, November 15, 2009

K-Movies Part the Third: Park Chan-Wook

I haven't had one of these posts in a while. Or any posts—National Novel-Writing Month has taken over my life. But I'm taking a bit of a break from writing about zombies to talk about movies.

If there were one iconic, go-to director in the world of South Korean movies, it would probably be 박찬욱: Park Chan-Wook. Oldboy, the second installment in his so-called "vengeance trilogy," is invariably the one Korean movie people know about, if they know about any. (Or, well, that or My Sassy Girl. But I kind of hate My Sassy Girl so Oldboy it is.)

Unlike the other movies I've recommended so far, Park Chan-Wook's ouevre tends to be deeply disturbing, bloody, and not a little bit uncomfortable. This is stuff that will be painful to watch, at times—whether because of the story or what's on the screen. But it will be so, so worth it.

The Vengeance Trilogy

The "vengeance trilogy" consists of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (literally: Revenge is Mine), Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (literally: Kind-hearted Ms. Geum-ja). There's no common character or story element connecting them together, except that they all are stories of revenge and vengeance.

Mr. Vengeance tells the story of Ryu, deaf-mute, blue-haired factory worker working desperately to save up money for a kidney transplant for his sister (being unable to donate his own). After some missteps and losing his job at the factory, Ryu and his extremist revolutionary girlfriend come up with a plan to kidnap the daughter of one of the higher-ups at the factory and ransom her to cover the expenses of the surgery. Things escalate from there.

Oldboy needs no introduction. Based on a Japanese manga of the same name, this is probably the one Korean movie most people have seen.

Lady Vengeance is the only one of the trilogy I haven't seen, but it's high on my SK movies to watch list. The Wikipedia synopsis sounds pretty cool: "[Lady Vengeance] stars Lee Young Ae as Lee Geum-ja, a woman released from prison after serving the sentence for a murder she did not commit. The film tells her story of revenge against the real murderer."

There are two version of Lady Vengeance, actually: one that stays full color throughout the film, and one that fades to black and white. Pretty neat trick; makes me want to see it even more.

(Almost) Everything Else

JSA: A whodunnit about a shooting at the Joint Security Area in the DMZ. President Roh actually gave a copy of this movie to Kim Jung-Il during one of his visits to North Korea.

Thirst: Vampire Catholic priest. Need I say more? This one actually got a decent release in the US thanks to the recent vampire phenomenon: one of two good things to happen because of Twilight. (The other good thing is the Twilight RiffTrax.)

I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay: A romantic comedy (of all things), Cyborg is the story of the relationship between two patients in a mental hospital: Cha Young-Goon, who thinks she's a cyborg, and Park Il-Sun, institutionalized for schizophrenia and anti-social behavior. Park Il-Sun is played by K-Pop sensation Rain, who actually made it to the top of TIME Magazine's "100 Most Influential People of the Year" of 2007, beating out Stephen Colbert. I don't understand that—is K-pop really that big back home?—but so it goes.

I'll leave you with a few trailers so you can see for yourself. They all have English subtitles, so no worries about language.

Oldboy trailer

Lady Vengeance trailer

JSA trailer

Cyborg trailer

Thirst trailer

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