304 Great Directors: Park Chan-wook

“I had a set of principles in designing these sex scenes. I didn’t want them to come across from the perspective of the male gaze; these scenes shouldn’t objectify women’s bodies. And I didn’t want to shoot it in the way that it would appear like characters are there to relieve their sexual desires. In other words, if the scene involved a man, I didn’t want the point of the scene be about making the man ejaculate. I wanted to do a sex scene where the process is the joy of it—the kind of sex where you can feel the intimacy between the two characters, where it is, as you say, a game. Sex where you laugh a lot, talk a lot, and even cry sometimes.”

Why This Director?
: Recent viewings of Stoker (yeesh, that ending…but it was pretty!) and The Handmaiden (Stoker’s formalism taken to smarter places although I’m a little doubtful he totally succeeded at accomplishing the above quote).

My Last Experience Was…: The above two.

What Did I Watch: The whole Vengeance trilogy: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. And then Thirst to wash it all down.

Where Does He Fit: After skipping to a random spot a few minutes into Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance to check for subtitles, I saw a scene with a whole bunch of people masturbating in a line. It’s still fairly bizarre in context, but we have also seen a scene with a woman peeling off a sticker in a public restaurant that immediately gets put back on the wall to deface it, saying ORGANS FOR SALE. Coincidentally, this is exactly what the lead, a deaf-mute named Ryu, needs for his sister and her kidney troubles, but the narrative is constructed precisely so that Act 1 focuses on him, then Act 2 goes for the way the plot goes horribly wrong in an attempt to get the money for an operation. I can safely say that it focuses on the most interesting ideas of the whole trilogy in terms of vengeance (Oldboy is definitely the odd one out here), but there’s something joyless about it all even if you admire the Shakespearian nature of the problems that unfold, taking everyone down with them. The jokes feel ripped off from the Coen Brothers, for better and for worse. I certainly felt sympathy, but I also felt a little distant from the proceedings, a feeling that only intensified as it went on.


Oldboy, meanwhile, was very close to being the first film I saw after the results of this disaster of an election had been announced, and it was pretty damn fitting for my mood even if watching Hawks’ Scarface post-Orlando put me off the work for a while before I calmed down a bit. Park’s style here is the total opposite of Mr. Vengeance, florid and sugary, with colors that fall onto an unusual part of the spectrum in how they are both ugly and pretty. We all remember such quirky styling like the dotted line and the hammer, or the brilliant long take involving him taking down the entire hallway with a knife in his back, but the film’s main strength is how vague it is in a way, universal enough to qualify as an allegory of nothing but blind anger at the way things have gone and a desire to avenge those wrongs. No one wins in the end of this long nightmare, but the evil in this is anti-profound, lacking in all forms of motivation beyond a sheer desire to wipe out the protagonist on a mental level, from smooth and sleek cool to utterly ragged destruction and phony tranquility, ready to break out at any minute.


It took longer than I had expected to get myself motivated to watch anything new in the context of Trump being the President and all the worst people being validated, but eventually, Lady Vengeance beckoned, and I guess it’s so appropriate that this movie, featuring a woman who in her own weird way does everything right but cannot win no matter what persona she embraces, was the movie that welcomed me into the teen lit dystopia in which we are now living. Her affair with a teenage boy may be…more Donald Trump than anything, but the point is, this marries the realism and the stylization of the first two films and somehow makes it work, a gloomy aesthetic that is pulpy and bright as hell. Joy comes by hard, forgiveness is harder, and the urge to kill rises…but we all move past things eventually, and even if there’s pretty much nothing to look forward to for just under 1500 days (possibly more), catharsis might hit us if we hold out long enough and learn something along the way. Still, nothing is quite as satisfying as watching a pane of glass break in the most perfect way possible during a break in.


Finally, we come to Thirst, the vampire movie that Park should have just done all over again instead of the gorgeous craft and horrendous ending of Stoker. The opening to this one is kind of genius: you open on a scene of total calm, before we overhear a man talking about something he ate when a priest enters as part of confession. Turns out he ate…a sponge cake! Well played, Park, and even better in showing us that this priest is both progressive and regressive (a suicidal woman comes to confession, he calls suicide worse than murder but also encourages her to take antidepressants). Never read Therese Raquin, but this loose adaptation takes it to some deeply grim places, with one threesome of sorts being a pitch black comedy of the waters. Kim Ok-bin’s performance is some real go for broke shit, a sociopath whose reactions are off even in the relatively normal stages. She doesn’t fall down right, she cries in a way that should be funny but just feels like a crocodile, she blatantly lies when she is telling the truth and then flips out. You could hardly ask for a better demon to be tempted by, Linda Blair grown up and gangly.


Most Valuable Asset: Sex and violence are wonderful!
Most Excited For: J.S.A. is the only notable one left.

Coming Up Next: Mad Mario Bava.


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