Uncompromising tale of crime and punishment
DIRECTED BY Park Chan-wook
STARRING Shin Ha-jyung, Bae Du-na
Opened May 30, Cert 18, 121 mins
The amazing international success of South Korean cinema’s new wave continues with this psychologically and physically punishing thriller from director Park Chan-wook. Moving implacably forward through a world of really bad shit, this uncompromising crime movie is as hard-boiled as it gets.
The morally complex, ruthlessly focused narrative begins with deaf-mute anti-hero Ryu (Shin Ha-jyung, from Park’s previous movie, Joint Security Area) being laid off from a job he needs in order to pay for his sister’s kidney transplant. Encouraged by his anarchist girlfriend (Bae Du-na), he initiates an ill-conceived plan to raise the money by kidnapping the daughter of his former boss (Song Kang-ho).
Inevitably, the whole enterprise takes a considerable turn for the worse, and the body count begins to rise. But despite the unremitting savagery Park orchestrates, the film has an impressive empathy for victims and perpetrators alike?the characters’ motives are clear, the repercussions inevitable and the resulting tragedy deeply felt by all involved (including the viewer). The deliberate pacing of the film’s early stages more than pays off; having moved all of his pieces into position, Park unleashes a series of gut-churning set-pieces that forces us ever deeper into the hellish world his characters have created for themselves. Bodies are destroyed at a formidable rate, with Ryu swinging his baseball bat in a manner that would make Barry Bonds proud, and a ‘knife in the neck’gag that deserves to become a classic moment in cinematic violence. You may be repulsed, but the film’s grip is so strong that you won’t be able to look away for long. The grim fare is put across with great flair by Park; elegant, deep-focus compositions allow the degenerate action to play out on various levels in single shots, while crucial twists and shifts in perspective are integrated organically rather than used as an excuse for a smart-arsed complex structure.
Matching the impact of what’s on screen is a sound-design that ranges from unsettling, over-amplified noise to the muffled churning in Ryu’s tortured head, allowing the viewer to experience events on an uncomfortably intimate, near-subliminal level. The intensity continues even beyond the end credits; you’ll be unsteady on your feet long after you’ve finally left your seat.
Some piece of work.