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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, July 15, 2005 - 06:57 am:   

Okay, guys. Here's the number one rule of truly fucked-up movies.

I'm not talking movies that are fucked up because they suck, I'm talking about
movies that are fucked up because when you see them you have no possible critique
but saying, "Whoa, that was fuuucked up."

Like the last twist of SE7EN. Not a movie I particularly like, but that was
seriously fucked up. And, whoah, FIGHT CLUB, that was seriously fucked up. And
NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE. Fucked up. And SAW, and for that matter THE RAPTURE,
whoah, that was fucked up. And MAY, with Angela Bettis. Whoaaaaahhhh.

I mean fucked up in the sense of being, like, seriously disturbing.

"Whoah. Dude. That's fuuuuuuuucked UP!"

The point here is that I haven't seen a movie as seriously, primally, hot-poker
to the base of the spine Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked-UP as Korea's OLDBOY in years.

I mean, YEARS.

Years and Years and Years and YEARS.

Concept is about a poor, drunken shmuck of a guy, hauled into the police station
on the birthday of his five-year-old daughter, bailed out by a friend, kidnapped
on his way back home to apologize to his family.

Wakes up in a chamber that looks like a dingy hotel room. Cheap stained carpeting,
ugly wallpaper, tv and bathroom. Thick cell door, through which he is fed the
same meal -- fried dumplings -- three times a day. From time to time a gas enters
the room through the radiator, knocking him out so his jailers can change his
clothes and clean the place a little. His captors refuse to tell him why he's
there. After about a year without any human contact he sees a news report on
tv to the effect that his wife has been murdered and that his fingerprints have
been found all over the crime scene. He goes a little apeshit in isolation,
and starts literally pounding the walls, training himself for the one chance
to someday get his hands on the unknown persecutors who have locked him here.

Fifteen years later, the traumatized, shellshocked wreck of the man he once
was is dropped off in the middle of town with a wallet full of money and is
told that his enemy is not quite done with him yet.

That's, like, the first twenty minutes.

I haven't even mentioned the suicidal gay guy with the toy poodle.

Also in the first twenty minutes.

THAT scene is as fucked-up as it gets.

That fuckin' poodle, man.

I'll be YEARS getting over that.

And if what's happened so far is seriously fucked up, then trust me when I tell
you that it doesn't even hold a candle to the barest shadow of the degrees of
fucked-up that this movie still has in store.

The villain, who has reasons persuasive to him, hasn't even STARTED putting
this poor not-quite innocent shmuck through hell.

This is not a standard revenge fantasy, of the Hollywood stripe. Our protagonist
-- one sincerely hesitates to call him hero -- has been deranged to the point
where he's a profoundly dangerous enemy, and he is implacable in his pursuit
of the bad guy, but the outrageously baroque backstory, and the ultimate permutations
of the evil plot, have little to do with the violence done to his person, or
with the violence he commits he return.

Not that there isn't plenty of that. The movie has an astounding action setpiece,
fairly early on. The protagonist has managed to identify the gang that imprisoned
him on the bad guy's behest. He comes across about thirty of them, in a dingy,
narrow corridor, armed only with a claw hammer. And he wades into them. The
scene is amazing because it has nothing whatsoever to do with martial arts.
Our protagonist's fifteen years of imprisonment have not made him a creature
out of THE MATRIX. He is just an infuriated brawler who simply doesn't care
how much he hurts. And so it is that when he wades into them, in a scene that
is NOT balletic, NOT edited to shit, NOT designed to make him look like the
biggest badass on the planet...it is a scene about a guy so apeshit mad that
he keeps getting up even when they knock him down and kick him a few dozen times
and run out of breath and think he's finished and find out they're wrong. It's
not a scene about a kung fu master or action hero. It's a scene about the one
infuriated drunk too out of his mind to be put down by two dozen bouncers long
after a sane guy would be down, and it's all filmed in one long take, panning
along that dingy, ill-lit corridor while the guy with the ruined life lashes
out with all the fury at his disposal.

That beats matrix-fu any day. Best fight scene in, oh God, I don't know how
long.

But like I said, one really long paragraph ago, it ain't about the physical
violence.

That's not what it's about.

It's about doing one poor shmuck such emotional damage that his soul is one
big scab, making him think he can't be hurt as bad as he's already been hurt,
and THEN demonstrating to him that everything he's been through before is just
raw preamble.

There are moments of incredible, dark beauty in this thing. The scene where
our hero first feels rain on his hands. A long, erotic scene of adolescent sexual
experimentation. Another love scene in a hotel room. One set in a frigid snowscape.
That fuckin' poodle, man.

And scenes that are just plain cold, as when our protagonist catches up with
his tormentor fairly early on, and is ready to tear him to pieces with his bare
hands, and is told, sure, go ahead. Kill me now. But you'll never know WHY.

It's almost impossible to imagine this story being remade, in English, with
an American movie star, for American consumption, without having the guts ripped
out of it. This is not studio product. This may be ridiculous and it may be
hard to take, but it is primal and it is passionate.

Cripes.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 15, 2005 - 08:29 am:   

You didn't mention the octopus.

OLD BOY is the central movie of the Vengeance trilogy. Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (which is great) and Lady Vengeance (which I haven't yet seen) are the other films in the trilogy. There are no recurring characters but rhey're linked thematically.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, July 15, 2005 - 09:08 am:   

Right. I didn't mention the octopus.

It's only the sixth or seventh most fucked up thing in the movie, so it kinda went unmentioned.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 15, 2005 - 09:39 am:   

I intended that as a joke.

I thought the fight scene was exceptional, but I thought Tony Jaa in Ong Bak has several scenes that are, if not its equal re cinematography, then certainly qualify on the grounds of athleticism. The primitive form of Muy Thay that Jaa uses is ultra-violent in and of itself.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, July 15, 2005 - 11:31 am:   

Kinda understood that, Lucius.

Have been informed, elsewhere, that an American remake IS planned. Nick Cage wants the lead.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Saturday, July 16, 2005 - 09:34 am:   

GAHHHH!! NO! Not Nick Cage!!
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - 04:30 pm:   

Watched it. Fucked up is right Adam. I haven't seen a recent psychological thriller this good since, I don't know.. maybe Intacto. But I think this is even better than Intacto. It's thoroughly disturbing, but also somewhat touching. I liked Daesu as the anti-hero. The psycho villain was good too.

This is my first modern Korean film and I'm impressed.

The American remake... Why bother?

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