Given my location in Paris, I couldn't help but think it had a Cinema du Look air about it and, in particular, it reminded me of Mauvais Sang (or The Night is Young as it was called in the UK), one of my all-time favourites. Although it's set in present day Korea, it feels like an alternate Korea in some ways, one that skews towards the manga origins of the film. It was this manga element that I was most worried about before viewing it. Would everything be just a little bit too stylised? Was it going to be Besson rather than Carax? No. Phew! Visually, it's a more controlled environment than Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and, not quite the right word, somewhat dehumanised. However, since the film is about that subject, it's entirely fitting. So, let's start by stating that I think it's a real tour de force.
I'd read that the BBFC were having some issues [sorted - Ed.] with some of the scenes. Fortunately, it being France, I suspected that nothing would be cut and I watched the same print that had won the Grand Prix at Cannes earlier in the year. The scene that seemed to be the most tricky for the Board was an early scene featuring an octopus being eaten alive in a sushi restaurant. So what? I thought before seeing it. I've eaten a live octopus. But my octopus was tiny. This one... Gordon Bennett! It's a big grey thing and much more than a single mouthful. Here in the UK, we're all very concerned about cruelty to octopuses. Will there be copycat incidents? Might there be an explosion of octopus abuse throughout this sceptered isle? Were can you find a live octopus in England anyway? It's one scene in the movie, one of many, where I was quite astonished. This is something I have never seen before in a film. It takes some doing to impress these jaded eyes, I can tell you.
Another scene that impressed me similarly was the part where Oh Dae-su is fighting a large crowd of gangsters. First, the camera is looking along the corridor at them and then it switches to this very flat side view, that is basically Street Fighter meets Géricault [Bayeux Tapestry, said The Gruaniad]. This part had echoes of Denis Lavant running through Paris to the sounds of Bowie in Mauvais Sang, except this was slow, balletic, graceful. If you can call a man rampaging with a hammer such... I was thinking "You show 'em, Park, flock Hollywood and flock Tarantino while you're at it."
There's not so much violence in the movie, but you feel every tooth-wrenching moment that's there. Oh, yes...
On a lighter note, and there's not much of light for the Western audience in the film perhaps, it is the first film I have seen in which pan-fried dumplings are an important plot device . [Eh? Yum!]I also noticed that the interior look of flats was very similar to Sympathy. There's a lot of, err, humid grime about them. Above all, there's this wallpaper in various dark geometric patterns that appeared in the previous film. I want some! Not sure how to find out where this is from, I might try contacting Filmbrain to see if he's any idea [I have now written]. He's definitely up on his Korean cinema and might have some suggestions for possible lines of enquiry. This is the sort of thing you should be able to post on an IMDB message board, but that's generally a dead end for anything other than basic IMHO WTF errata.
As to the film's ending... Well, I won't spoil this part, but I'm not quite convinced by it. But then I never am by endings, because the lights are going up and I have to return to the real world.
All in all, I'd give it 8.7 out of ten, because hardly any film gets a ten, or even a nine. The slight drop in marking is chiefly because of the somewhat James Bond villain feel of the "villain" (!!) and his penthouse (although I warmed to him by the end). Particularly his wardrobe. You'll know it when you see it.
I shall be watching it again on my return to the UK. Monday afternoon, I suspect.