Tag: chan-wook park

Oldboy


Oldboy (2013)
★ / ★★★★

After almost closing a business deal and then derailing it, Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), an alcoholic, goes on a drinking binge despite the fact that he ought to be attending—sober—the birthday of his three-year-old daughter. He passes out in the street and wakes up in a motel room that is locked from the outside. He screams for help and demands to be let out. No cigar. Cameras around the room record his every move. Twenty years of living in a confined space with no human interaction and living off Chinese food, he is released. The game has only begun.

Although “Oldboy,” directed by Spike Lee, is a remake of Chan-wook Park’s cult favorite “Oldeuboi,” the former has enough differences in the final third to make the two pictures different from one another. However, that is not to suggest that the differences are particularly effective. On the contrary, I found myself quite passive to the revelations when they ought to be exciting or shocking. In the end, though I was not enraged by the denouement, I still thought the experience was a waste of time.

Lee’s film is well-shot and well-made, but it lacks a sinister mucosa. A sense of danger is a requirement in a story like this because this element pushes the viewers to ask questions, to lean in, to be as bewildered or confused or frustrated as the protagonist. Instead, the screenplay by Mark Protosevich prefers to show behavior rather than the inner workings of minds—the mind of a victim who had a chunk of his life stolen from him as well as the mind of a perpetrator (Sharlto Copley) who believes that his actions are justified.

Delving into the psychology of a person requires not only a slow unveiling of key information but also a sense of control of mood with respect to what is being revealed. Here, the mood, tone, and atmosphere remain constant and flat. As a result, Joe’s investigation, with the help of a nurse named Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), is uninteresting for the most part. I felt as though I was watching a pair follow a trail of crumbs—Point A to Point B—rather than starting at Point A and then having a choice to explore multiple paths that may or may not lead to answers that they wish to attain.

Copley is miscast as the man responsible for Joe’s imprisonment. Though he tries to be dangerous in voice and mannerisms, the whole charade comes off as a distracting performance, almost a caricature. He fails to communicate a level of seething anger. Perhaps a more natural approach might have been better. I wondered how our understanding of the mysterious character would have been different if someone like Mads Mikkelsen had played him.

“Oldboy” is a remake and there is nothing we can do to change that. I am not against remakes as long as I feel they are worth my time. Though a few scenes are well-shot— especially in the first half—its lack of nuance in terms of characterization and how the plot develops is an increasing source of disappointment. I was not convinced that the filmmakers really understood what ought to be extracted from the original and what should be changed in order to create a better piece of work.

Oldboy


Oldboy (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★

After being picked up by a friend from the police station for being drunk and disorderly, Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) calls home to assure his wife and kid, the latter being her birthday, that he is on his way home. A period of time passes. Dae-su, now sober, wakes up in a room. For fifteen years, he is to endure the torment of not knowing who or why is being held captive. His sole companionship is the television. Using only chopsticks, he creates a path toward freedom. But just before he gets the chance to claim it, he is released.

“Oldboy,” written by Chan-wook Park, Chun-hyeong Lim and Jo-yun Hwang, is a tightly wrapped mystery-thriller, beautifully shot on the outside and with a real sinister core. It succeeds because it creates a wild but believable journey for its main character. We become a part of his discoveries and revenge so his story engages the emotions and the mind.

There is real craft behind the camera. Park is so confident between pulling in and out the action and personal interactions that controlling the camera becomes an elegant dance. When it moves in, there is emphasis on human connection; when it moves out we get a chance to ask ourselves if the connection is pure and true. Given that Dae-su, having been through years of torture and hypnosis, is afflicted with a certain level of memory loss while still dealing with the trauma of his trial, can he be a reliable protagonist? Another question worth asking: Are the people he comes to contact with trustworthy? In any case, the movement of the camera allows us to focus on the details of the game.

Tools that can be considered distracting are utilized with grace: split-screens, flashbacks, and extended unbroken shots. They work mainly because they function secondary to the story. They are elements to be manipulated in order to highlight or underline an intention or action—not to create a semblance of the story moving forward when it really is stuck. Take away the flourishing and the plot remains crystal clear. Its secrets uncoil slowly.

However, the middle portion’s pacing needs work. While the relationship between Dae-su and Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), the woman he meets at a sushi bar, is necessary, the reconnection between Dae-su and his friend, Joo-hwan (Dae-han Ji) is forced. Once the latter’s presence is introduced, certain things—very mechanical—must occur to get from Point A to Point B. As a result, the momentum decreases. There are one too many conveniences that so happens to allow Dae-su to stumble upon answers.

Choi’s performance builds to a boil. The third act puts his talent front and center as he plays an empty shell of a man who is desperate and on the verge of breaking. I felt sorry for Dae-su and was uneasy because the screenplay plays with the idea that he might not get the vengeance that he believes (as do some of us) he deserves—one he has waited a decade and a half to execute.

“Oldeuboi,” directed by Chan-wook Park, does not rest on telling a straight forward revenge story. It must be noted that underneath the obsidian surface is a level of humanity. Those who choose not to look closer are likely to be impressed with the superficial twists. However, those who make an effort to see through the fog will recognize the themes involving loss: loved ones, time, innocence, memory, and identity.

Stoker


Stoker (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

During her father’s burial, India (Mia Wasikowska) sees a man observing their mourning from afar. This turns out to be Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), believed to have been traveling the world for many years. Charles is very charming and cultured so India’s mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), invites him to stay with them for a while. India does not think this is a good idea given that they know almost nothing about him.

Daubed with a mysterious atmosphere and directed with a keen eye that allows images to come alive, it is a shame that the final quarter of “Stoker” is wimpy and standard. For a movie that is very careful about creating a well-paced build-up of bizarre events, there is something cheap about relying on guns and bloodshed instead of finding another way, one that feels right, to end the story.

The distance between the grieving mother and daughter is just right. Wasikowska and Kidman are nicely cast because they have a tendency of portraying cold personalities with just enough fire to keep their characters interesting. The screenplay does not give their relationship much depth, but there are enough oddities in their interactions that we cannot help but ask questions. Losing the man of the house is difficult for both of them. When Charlie enters the equation, it is almost as if there is a competition among the women.

When it comes to India and Uncle Charlie, about thirty to forty minutes in, I predicted exactly what is going to happen. However, I enjoyed the images enough that I was able to overlook its lack of excitement. I relished how a lamp in the basement moves back and forth when touched, how the camera lingers on the fingers dancing on the piano as the hand guides them to play beautiful melodies, and how images of past and present are placed on top of one another to draw parallels. It is an understated thriller with a taste bud for poetry and lyricism.

The supporting characters are not given enough time on screen in order to make a difference where the story will veer toward. Mrs. McGarrick (Phyllis Somerville) appears to be knowledgeable about the family’s dark history and Auntie Jen (Jacki Weaver) seems to be deathly afraid Charlie. Meanwhile, India’s classmates, cruel Pitts (Lucas Till) and kind Whip (Alden Ehrenreich), enter and exit the picture for the sake of showing the fact that India is not very popular at school. Their scenes could have been taken out completely and it would not have made much difference; we can tell that India is a loner by just looking at the way she dresses and the manner in which she interacts with people closest to her.

In the beginning, India admits through narration that she has an ability of seeing and hearing things that many people tend to overlook. I wished the writer, Wentworth Miller, had been more willing to play with the possibility that there is something paranormal about our protagonist. The house is palatial and prime for an old-fashioned ghost story. In other words, the material lacks the necessary red herrings so that people like myself will be distracted enough that we are inevitably swept up in the fun of its revelations.

Directed by Chan-wook Park, “Stoker” is visually splendid but it lacks a level of danger that many effective mystery-thrillers possess. It remains in a state of muffled restraint for so long that when it is time to conclude the story, it feels like it is simply trying too hard.

Thirst


Thirst (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

“Bakjwi” or “Thirst,” directed by Chan-wook Park, was about a priest (Kang-ho Song) who knowingly participated in a fatal experiment in order to help other people who might be infected with the disease in the future. Surely enough, the experiment killed him but he later returned from the dead as a blood thirsty vampire. I couldn’t quite enjoy this movie as a whole because it was very odd which, frankly, I did not expect. I thought it was going to be a pretty standard horror film about a vampire. Others may like the fact that the movie tried to pull off some comedy here and there but I found it to be very distracting. Maybe the humor was lost in translation because I’m not Korean so I didn’t think it was funny at all. I found the scenes with the family (Ok-bin Kim, Hae-sook Kim, Ha-kyun Shin) to be very dull and redundant. And the whole “romance” between Song and Ok-bin Kim did not persuade me at all that they were “in love.” There were far too many–from what it felt like–obligatory sex scenes that didn’t quite move the story forward. As realistic as they were, they didn’t do anything for me; I was more interested with the scares that it had to offer. I wanted to know more about what it meant for the lead character to be a vampire and the struggles he had to go through since he chose to live by certain codes. One of the most important of those codes included not killing people because God saw it as a mortal sin. Did he, when stripped with religion, inherently thought it was wrong? After all, he was no longer a “normal” human. I didn’t really get my questions answered because the movie insisted on spending time with that annoying family. The priest was a very interesting character because I don’t know a lot of vampire characters who remain loyal to his religion after death. However, I very much enjoyed the last forty minutes because I finally felt that I was watching a film that was edgy, suspenseful and mysterious. I don’t want to spoil anything because I did not see certain things coming but the events that happened in the last third of the movie really fascinated me. I felt like the movie finally came alive especially the beautiful outdoor scenes. It had this mesmerizing glow that glued me to the screen. If only the level of filmmaking was the same as the last third of the picture, I would have given “Thirst” a recommendation. With a running time of about two hours and ten minutes, it certainly felt that long or maybe even longer.