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Movie Marathons: Korean Revenge Trilogy

South Korean director (and writer – he’s credited as a screenwriter on all three of these films) Chan-wook Park’s trilogy of revenge movies packs a punch, especially if you watch them all in a row. Things get intense when you mainline these in one sitting, so consider spreading them out over three evenings. Or three weeks.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) – In a way, this one hit me the hardest. It’s the least stylized, and its greater degree of realism makes the gut punch of the story even more effective because you can follow everyone’s intentions into the abyss. Events unfold in unrelenting order, step by terrible step, inevitable and unstoppable, like sand in an hour glass. You understand why each of the two main protagonists is doing what they do, and you sympathize and recoil at the same time. Psychologically, you’re twisting in the wind here. Plus, some pretty horrendous deaths are served up, in a terrible, low-key manner. Of the three, this one is the bleakest one, without any nod at redemption.

Oldboy (2003) – Probably the best known of the three outside of Korea, and with reason (that hammer, for one). Sadly, I had to see this dubbed, and the English voices distracted me since they didn’t seem to fit with the actors. On the other hand, maybe this gave me some needed distance to what was happening. The mystery of the imprisonment keeps you interested, and the horror is slow in mounting, so that you’re only realizing your throat is tight when things really escalate to that final leap into pure psychological horror. This one has some real over-the-top gory scenes, of which the one at the sushi place with the live octopus is only the beginning. This one is a real mindf–k.

Lady Vengeance (2005) –  The final installment is the most stylish, starting with the beautiful credit sequence. And also back to subtitles, to my relief, even if it made things a bit confusing at times. It also seems slower to build, and less hardcore – if you don’t think about it – until a fantastical sequence towards the end, where suddenly the absurd and the horror hit you smack in the face thanks to the cinematography and the loving attention to detail. Clear plastic raincoats, oh my. Very beautiful shots, masterfully composed. And a story that’s just as twisted as the other two. Also, a stunning Yeong-ae Lee (both in her appearance and performance) as the lady bent on revenge.

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Short Takes – Fall Movie Division

A quick rundown on some of the movies I’ve seen in this fall. Short takes inspired by the Movie Blog method.

The Master – Impressive performances from the two main actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix), and a very scary and intense Amy Adams. This one offers lots of fodder for film school discussions, parsing symbolism etc., but the further away I get from it, the more its initial impact fades for me.

Seven Psychopaths – Despite a great movie-stealing performance by Sam Rockwell, this one struck me as half-baked, with some scenes that work and others just not quite gelling. There are some funny lines, and some very clever meta stuff, but merely having a character acknowledge the awful treatment of female characters in movies such as this one does not absolve you of trying to actually do better on that score. Even with a great Christopher Walken turn, this one doesn’t quite come together.

Looper – Loved it. It’s fun, tense, with great attention to detail in set design and look, and fabulous secondary characters. There are real stakes, difficult moral questions, and a very innovative use of time travel. Highly recommended.

Argo – Seems to be widely considered a favorite. It’s a solid piece of entertainment, fun and tense in all the right places.

End of Watch – I could have kept watching Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena for several more hours.  Fantastic character work, which looks effortless but packs a punch; these guys seem like real people, and the movie takes its time to build the world they inhabit.

Pitch Perfect – This movie delivered exactly what I wanted from it. So much fun. Plus, college a capella. Just put this one on your rental list already.

So, Spiderman 3. Meh.

OK, let’s just get this out of the way: Spiderman 3 – meh. If I were writing this directly after seeing the movie on Friday, my reaction might be a lot stronger on the negative side but I’ve had the weekend to read a ton of other comments, reviews and reactions and I am thus bending to the middle. Because I am nothing if not easily swayed in my opinions of things that entertain like books, movies and TV shows. Continue reading