Recently Rated Movies #37

Months ago, I watched about three-quarters of Oldboy on DVD, but then suddenly the disc went all wonky on me. I was having a terrific revenge-soaked time watching the film, but a subsequent viewing of the replacement disc left me hanging in the exact same spot, as if I had been sent the same disc back again. Of course, it was probably an error in a batch of discs, but I often like to imagine that someone has it in for me at the companies with whom I am dealing. It give me an enemy on which to hang the problems which generally come about due to simple coincidence or, far more often, my own incompetence. All in all, in keeping with the theme of Oldboy itself, it gives me enemies on whom I might plot my vengeful fury.

What I actually did, rather than exact revenge on the peons at the movie distribution company, was simply wait a few months and then ordered the film again. This time, though, I decided to make a go of it and order all three films in Chan-Wook Park's "Vengeance" trilogy, because by this point I had read an astonishing amount of word-of-mouth about all three films and the director himself. Naturally, it made sense, even if the films are only connected by their common theme, and not by characters like many movies trilogies tend to be. However, in the case of thematic sets, often you don't know until you have seen all of the films whether you do need the previous film or not to understand the newer films, though I would point out that I believe the three main characters' motivations grow increasingly complex with each film. This might simply point out the natural maturation of a talented filmmaker as he continues to grow within his art; it could, too, be an intentional course on the part of Park.

As such, as much raving as I have heard about Oldboy, and having seen it three-quarters of the way through twice already, I still found myself liking each succeeding film more than the previous one, so it might be that the wave of hysteria hadn't quite made itself about for the third film, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (the title that appears on the movie itself, though the U.S. title is actually, shortly and stupidly, Lady Vengeance. I prefer the longer title, as it forms a bookend with the title of the first film's "Mr.") Still, we are speaking here of my preference between the last two films in the most minute of degrees; as I like to say, it's the difference between an A and an A minus.

Some people question Park's need for such a sharply focused eye on the subject of revenge, let alone three straight films regarding the topic. But we aren't talking Friday the 13th 4, 5 and 6 here, with little change in the exploitation weather except for minor plot points, nor are these films simple horror thrillers merely designed to titillate a blood-hungry audience. These are films meant to provoke and provide discomfort even the most jaded viewer, and you are not necessarily always supposed to side with the vengeance-seeker in each story, nor all the time within each story. The issues are hard and troubling, and they should be, and the question is often whether such revenge should be sought, and if so, the time for when it is rightly called. There are no easy answers here, and even when it seems there is, the films often leave you questioning your loyalties within the tale. I will not give specific examples here; I would rather people seek these out and let the films surprise them.

I couldn't leave well enough alone and be satisfied with just the "Vengeance" trilogy; in the course of this wave of blood-soaked fury, I also chose to rent Three Extremes, a triptych film featuring all-Asian filmmakers, representing China (Fruit Chan), Japan (Takashi Miike) and Korea (Park, yet again). All three of these stories are definitely not for the faint of heart, particularly the squishy opening tale regarding the devouring of fetal matter, so I encourage Sunday School-going children to watch them over and over again. And yes, Park's section does contain a tale of revenge, though miles different (and more purely horrific) from the more hard-boiled tales in his trilogy.

Of course, I washed all this blood and bodily excretion down with a healthy dose of 70s Disney milk-goodness, by catching the pair of Witch Mountain flicks on a channel that I have truly never watched before: Hallmark. But there I was reuniting myself with films that I saw on Saturday afternoons at the matinee as a child, often in concert with A Tale of Two Critters or Charlie the Lonesome Cougar. A few years later, cute little Witch Mountaineer Kim Richards would be prancing around in a mini-skirt and fishnets in Tuff Turf with James Spader, and I would take a severe hit to my psyche.

Now, I need some bloody vengeance...

The List:
Incident at Loch Ness (2004, Showtime) - 7; Southern Belles (2005, Sundance) - 5; The Jerk (1979, DVD) - 7; The Man With Two Brains (1985, DVD) - 6; Saam Ganng Yi [Three Extremes] (2004, DVD) - 7; Oldboy (2003, DVD) - 8; Boksuneun Naui Geot [Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance] (2002, DVD) - 7; Silly Billies (1936, TCM) - 5; The Rainmakers (1935, TCM) - 6; Chinjeolhan Geumjassi [Sympathy for Lady Vengeance] (2005, DVD) - 8; Escape to Witch Mountain (1975, Hallmark) - 5; Return from Witch Mountain (1978, Hallmark) - 5.


matt fosberg said…
You WOULD have to go and remind me about Tuff Turf now, wouldn't you?

That's just wrong my man...


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