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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.

B Movie Triple Shot

The Bay (2012) – I was surprised to learn this one was directed by Barry Levinson of Rain Man, Bugsy, Sleepers, etc. A bit of a departure for him. Quite disturbing, with moments that made me jump. Great use of “found” footage, with a skillful building of tension. Be lured by the extremely effective trailer, stay for the knowledge that this started as a documentary. 40% of the Chesapeake Bay is a dead zone!

Attack the Block (2011) – A great B movie. Tight story, an unusual setting for an alien invasion story (South London council housing block), good acting. Very entertaining, although the special effect aliens might not work for everyone. Still, a satisfying watch, and it’s only 88 minutes of your time. Well worth it. Note: You might want to have the subtitles on if you have problems catching British working class accents and idioms.

Horror House on Highway 5 (1985) – If you can gets this on DVD, it’s the perfect Bad Movie night feature. Watch this with a group of witty friends and make your own Mystery Science Theater 3000 experience. Amateur acting, no plot to speak of, terrible dialog, plus vague demonic Germanic rituals and a tenuous connection to Nazi stuff. Features predictable deaths (watch out for that rake!) and barely-defined characters like The Pothead, The Tough Guy, The Housewife, and Dr. Mabuse. If you retain any sense of humor and the absurd, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

Two Quick Takes

In an attempt to bring movement into my somewhat stagnant Netflix queue, I watched two movies in quick succession last week. Two consecutive movie week nights, two entirely opposed movies.

Tuesday: The Descent – first off, what a nice change of pace to have a horror movie where the women’s role is not simply to wear revealing clothing, and ever less of that, and to be either killed off as a morality demonstration (sex kills, kids) or rescued by the boyfriend. Six people, who happen to be women, go for an adventure in cave climbing and show themselves to be courageous, duplicitous, resourceful, reckless, smart, scared, noble and, at times, savage. In short, human. Frankly, I was plenty riveted by the cave drama (tight tunnels, darkness, no sure way out – hello claustrophobia) and could have done without the flesh-eating cave dwellers (external monsters where there were already plenty of internal monsters for our characters). You want tension? This movie delivers. Plus, some beautiful shots, especially one towards the end. Continue reading