Oldboy is a movie that shows the sloppiest fights I’ve seen in film, adding realism to the video game rules applied in most action films. Protagonist O Dae-su is imprisoned for fifteen years in an accommodating yet sadistic facility. One of the things he does in his stay in the facility is his self-training in martial arts, and has the callused knuckles to show for it. Nonetheless, he has to be hurt before he hurts the mob on the other side of the fight. And his lack of exposure to other human beings during 15 years hasn’t been an advantage to him in physical encounters.
It’s hard to find humanity in a movie that starts with blatantly Asian pop soundtrack and threats of violence, but the audience will find that treasure ten minutes into the film. His forced monasticism didn’t dull his mind but actually made him think and remember things. In the latter half of those years in his prison, he decides to write a list of all the people he’s hurt. He narrates ‘I thought I lived a normal life, but there was so much wrongdoing.’ There’s so much truth to that question on whether his past has come to haunt him and how his damnation starts in his adult life. I know that’s a Christian approach to an Eastern text, but the character did go to a Catholic school.
As he is released from the prison, he tries to find out who has taken him there and avenge himself, but that involves retracing his steps. Remembering his young self leads to flashbacks in the film, showing a young man with a shaved head and no resemblance to him. In one of the film’s final scenes he finally gets to talk with Lee, the man who has imprisoned him, also looking nothing like his supposed younger self. The scene show how withered Oh Dae-su as compared to Lee’s self-preservation. Eventually, the men and their younger versions are edited more closely into the scene showing that yes, they do look like their young selves, both of whom have no idea how their actions and obliviousness would anchor their fates.
- 15 Movies With Huge and Horrific Death Counts (popcrunch.com)
Late Autumn puts Anna (Tang Wei), a Chinese-American, and Hoon, a Korean male escort, on a bus from Fresno to Seattle to find each other. What we see are adequately paced, two-headed character studies. We watch Anna mumble to herself, wear hooker earrings for the first time in seven years, investigate her motel room and relearn normal human interaction. We also watch Hoon and his permagrin fix his hair, talk on his phone, a man trying to exude confidence while running from his client’s husband. We watch them interact although he does all the talking.
The digital photography starts out in faded colours that remind us of foggy Seattle, making Anna’s face look pale and unflattering. Then she meets Hoon again, they walk through streets with potted plants, go to a tiny version of an amusement park and the colour punches its way in. Colour smoothly introduces itself, and brightens up Anna’s face too, the same way that other films about women temporarily out of prison remember how to live again. That’s not a spoiler. And we see a Seattle awake at night.
And it all comes crashing down. Subtlety’s good as a rule, and the characters never talk about the source of pain but instead of plainly hiding it they make excuses and talk about other things. As Anna’s lover tells Hoon, ‘I think you don’t know what you’re talking about’ and accuses him of playing games. Hoon doesn’t evolve and doesn’t help Anna in doing so neither. Rating: 2/5.
(Repeat viewing, again I didn’t blog at TIFF ’09)
One of my favourite scenes in “Mother” is the abandoned amusement park scene. There’s awesomeness in the closeups of Jin-tae’s boots as he willfully beats the shit out of the horny, gossipy teenage schoolboys . But what I’m here to talk about is when Jin-tae’s best friend’s Mother (Hye-ja Kim) interacts with the same boys. She lights a cigarette and plays good cop to Jin-tae’s bad cop. She asks where the murdered schoolgirl Moon Ah-jung’s cellphone is. The previously fragile mother now looks tougher and sharper than nails, easily she gets the answers she needs.
That’s one of the hurdles that the titular Mother has to go through to prove that her slow-developed son is not the murderer of a girl. She tears up, she bravely ventures to places like the victim’s funeral and a sleazy Karaoke bar, she lies through her teeth. She’s technically a supporting character in her son’s life, their view of each other both Freudian and furious. But we later realize that it’s all about maintaining her world order as much as it is about getting her son out of jail. Hye-ja Kim also fills this character’s highs and lows, giving the best female performances of the past year.
This is the second Joon-ho Bong film I’ve seen (the first one was “The Host”). He explores known terrain/archetypes like schoolgirl innocence, low functioning emasculated men and according to Rick Groen, incompetent government officials, but he twists them in “Mother.” I’m not an expert in South Korean history and culture – cellphone culture and interconnectedness and other Asia-na is assumed as a part of a depiction of the said culture. But this movie’s so character driven anyway that it doesn’t get pigeonholed as a ‘film as national metaphor.’
Almost every frame in this movie is beautiful. From the close-ups to the natural landscapes of a Korean city to the valley-like cemeteries and streets to its attention to water and rain to its willingness to explore darkness. Blue hues are neo-noir’s best friend.
Sure the movie’s a bit slow and even the shocking twists (they’re the best ones in about a decade) don’t give it the punch that “The Host” did, but “Mother” is becoming more enigmatic the more I think of it.