A powerful Asian thriller that demonstrates greatly the damning and impactful consequences of revenge and the past. It works really well in focusing on a story that utilises violence but mixes it in greatly with ideas that can tear the heart apart.
Park Chan-wook directs a dazzling tale of vengeance and bloody action, but it’s in the strength of its plot that makes this film even better than your average shock value blood and guts action revenge film. Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) finds himself abducted and trapped in a decorated hotel room where he’s kept prisoner for 15 years. After being released he hears from his captor and tries to work out why he was taken for his own relief and to keep a new love safe from murder.
It looks incredible from the outset, with a few notes of the opening score hitting your eardrums hard as you see Oh Dae-su clasping someone by the tie who is dangling over a building you know this film is going to be interesting and brutal. The theme of time constantly cycles round making you aware of the countdown to the 5 day ultimatum given to Dae-su to work out why he was imprisoned. The brief opening credits are seen with clocks and the odd messed up sound of tocks with the score and then there’s the date flipping over on a clock that swipes over and through scenes raising the tension effectively. The repetitive use of the jingle that sends the prisoners to sleep is a harrowing tool to play a sick game on the main character as he attempts racing to a conclusion of what caused him to be taken all those years ago. It features as part of the soundtrack to become some kick to us that something may happen and it’s also set as his mobile phone ringtone which sets off the whole antagonist’s chain of events in how Dae-su reacts in the sushi bar.
Min-Sik is dedicated as the once annoying drunk Dae-su in losing and gaining weight to portray the hard hit character. He is believable in his quest of truth and the intensity he gives in the times he faces enemies is second to none, an example being when we’re gifted that incredible unedited tracking shot through the numerous opponents. The main rival and the reason the story keeps driving on to reach some answer is Lee Woo-jin played by Yoo Ji-tae who carries some smug snarky evil in his step and his refusal to tell Oh Dae-su and therefore us the motive to his actions is the first signal to the game he’s playing and by the end when the penthouse scene arrives and we think there’s some final hit to the villain it’s clear he’s still crafting some twisting game and boy is it well played even if it is wrong. The final answer facing Dae-su in that violet box is so brilliant and I didn’t expect it because I was so wrapped up by the look of the film and the story progressing that I didn’t pause to think of that as a possibility. The two of them when acting opposite each other are dynamic and wholly believable as these mentally duelling characters and both come with desires, flaws and conclusions that light this film on fire.
There is some oddity in the CGI of ants becoming a metaphor for living alone or in groups but the visual of a giant ant is something perhaps too far and didn’t do anything for me. Also the film suddenly slows down when a flashback sequence begins, it’s at a school and is the moment when we find out the start of the truth but it felt too long for me and could have cut down just a tad. The ending may also be a point of concern for some as it’s defintley ambiguous, I kind of liked it that way as you have your own interpretation of life after for the characters but I could see how some people may not like that as the last part of the movie.
This is a hugely stylistic take on the revenge story that comes with dark layers and a grotesque touch at times that helps tell the stories of ruined lives. That and the plainly cruel sight of an octopus as…you’ll see! A fantastic study of character and what drives the two main men and all the time the tragic qualities, reminiscent of a Shakespeare play, create this suspenseful beast of a film.