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Benefit Broadly The Film World – South Korean Directors Going Supersized
Quick question: What’s your favourite movie? Don’t be afraid to say it out loud. It’s fine. We have analytics, and, according to our data, statistically, you are in someone’s crawlspace. They’re not home now, so no one will hear you. So, go on – what’s your favourite movie? That’s right, your answer was Oldboy. We have a lot in common. Let’s try that again. On the count of three yell out your favourite band. Okay? Okay.
Wait, what? “The Divinyls”? Really? As your favourite? Weirdo…
Now, back to Oldboy, there are a lot of good reasons why you like that movie so much, Uncle Creepy. For one – Min-sik Choi’s performance is top notch, good spotting. For another, it is a superbly shot, well-paced, electric, hyper-violent, uncompromising and blackly funny revenge thriller, from the guy we should all really think of as the master of these things now, Chan-wook Park.
Oldboy was the middle film in his ‘Vengeance Trilogy,’ a thematic trilogy that was about… shit, I dunno. That’s a tough one, Sheriff. It was also the film that put him on the map, internationally. But you know this. I’m basically just an awkward expositional cipher on Dexter, or some shit.
Chan-wook Park has become a pretty big name since then, so it’s important to remember to use a smaller font when typing his name. Pretty much everything he’s been attached to has been quite special.
Park, and Oldboy (as well as his other films like Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, and Thirst) have paved the way for a whole slew of other pretty amazing Korean films that have trickled into Western cinemas. South Korea is having a kind of film renaissance currently, which has been compared to the US of the ‘70s. I’ll pay that. Good job, Comparison Wizards!
Australia even has its own Korean Film Festival now, which is one of the highlights in the festival calendar. It’s kicking off next week in Sydney, and will be in Criminal Complex sister-city Melbourne in September. It’s a pretty fun festival, with less of the pretention of the Arts Festival or the Melbourne International Film Festival, for example, and a whole lot more enthusiasm. Heck –wanna feel old? Oldboy is headlining this year’s Cinema Classics section of the festival. Wow. Anyway, KOFFIA has gotten me on a bit of a Korean cinema brain tangent. So buckle up, bucko. Buck.
One of the other break-out stars from the Korean film scene is Jee-woon Kim, director of another highly touted revenge-thriller, I Saw The Devil (one which provoked unusually stupid commentary from the usually amazing AVClub, who did the whole “has film gone too far?” non-debate about this one. Blergh). I Saw The Devil, while horrifically violent, was incredibly taut, and blisteringly funny. It is pretty uncomfortable the way it mixes conflicting feelings together, kinda like that time I got a boner at a funeral. Jee-woon Kim knows what he’s doing, and has mastered balancing tricky tones – see his bugnuts crazy The Good, The Bad, The Weird for further evidence, and his masterful A Bittersweet Life for other reference.
It seems kind of inevitable, I suppose, that these filmmakers, who are pretty classed as some of the best in the world, would try their hand at making movies in the USA.
Maybe the only surprising thing is how it’s taken for them to get projects made here. As I’m not Park or Kim, all I can offer for their reasoning is rampant speculation as to why they’re choosing to make English-language films. Surely the access to bigger budgets and a far wider audience is a huge drawcard. See, in Australia, most of our good filmmakers end up heading overseas to make films, as our government is notoriously non-supportive of the arts, and getting anything financed here is a nightmare, which is then compounded by the fact that distribution and potential gross in Australia are minuscule. However, in Korea, these filmmakers don’t have that so much as a problem – they’ve faced no real hurdles in getting funding, and have an audience who will flock to this stuff in their home country, and a rabid cult audience around the world. Park and Kim are both filmmakers with nothing left to prove, so it’s time to challenge themselves by making a movie for an international audience.
First up will be Jee-woon Kim’s The Last Stand, which is doubly exciting, because it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring role since playing the Governor of California. Now, this sounds like just the kind of thing that’s right in Kim’s wheelhouse, i.e. freakin’ cool as heck-a-doodle and real goshing whacked out, cunts. In The Last Stand, a drug cartel leader who is imprisoned in the US, busts out of prison and heads to the Mexican border inside an armoured super-tank, driving through a border town where the quintessentially all-American sheriff is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who must make The Last Attempt At Stopping A Super Tank Driven By Drug Dealers [working title].
Luckily for denizens of the Internet, a trailer for this guy surfaced recently, and it looks as amazing as I could hope for.
Now, it could be easy to write this one off, but you’d be wrong. And stupid. Sorry to break it to you. You have other nice qualities. What could look like a typically stupid movie is, I’m betting, going to surprise people by being an atypically stupid movie. It sure looks over the fucken top, but gloriously so. It looks to be as visually inventive, funny, tense and violent as all of Kim’s earlier movies (okay, it probably won’t be as violent as I Saw The Devil….). But, I’m pretty confident that this is going to be a good time, and an excellent calling card for Kim.
Later on in 2013, Chan-wook Park has his first English-language film coming out, Stoker. Now, this one has an interesting pedigree, also. It’s written by Wentworth Miller, best known for being an actor, having starred in Prison Break. Wow. Didn’t expect this. Anyway, Stoker seems to be selling itself as a psychological thriller, with Mia Wasikowska playing India, whose Uncle Charlie comes to live with her and her mother after her family dies. The hitch is, India has never heard of Uncle Charlie before, and he is described as being all mysterious and charming, and such, with perhaps “ulterior motives.” Oooh-ahh! There’s a pretty sweet cast here, with Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman rounding things out.
Look – that sounds good and all, but if Chan-wook Park is making it, I’m seeing it. Can’t wait.
The only real worry is whether this is going to end up the same as when a few of the Chinese action directors shifted to the US, and we got John Woo’s Hard Taget and Hark Tsui’s (secretly awesome) Double Team. But we’ll see – I have a feeling that Chan-wook Park’s sensibilities will translate well to the US market, and Kim’s are just nutty enough to be universal. And if not, hey, we could really use another Double Team.