I Saw The Devil (2010)

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Directed by: Kim Jee-woon

 

There are two films I never want to see. Spike Lee’s remake of ‘Oldboy’ and Tim Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. I simply love the originals too much. I wonder if other film fans have taken similar action in response to remakes. If you have avoided a remake purely because you love the original film so much then please do get in touch @iscfc.

Anyway, last month I heard that plans are afoot to remake ‘I Saw The Devil’. I suppose this review is a call to those who haven’t yet seen the original to watch it, and I guess if you like it, then maybe you will boycott the remake whenever it is released. But be warned ‘I Saw The Devil’ is an unsettling, tough to stomach revenge film. It’s not nice. In fact it is downright nasty and vicious.

‘I Saw The Devil’ is a classic South Korean revenge thriller. A special agent’s fiancé is slain by a serial killer named Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik) who preys on vulnerable young women. The special agent, who is called Soo-hyun, tracks down his fiance’s killer and toys with him, like a cat playing with a mouse. As the film goes on the line between who is good and who is evil blurs significantly as Soo-hyun becomes more and more deranged himself.

The clever thing about this movie is that it contains all the hallmarks of a good South Korean film, the melodrama, the Shakespearean tragedy, and perhaps more controversially, I would also commend the film’s innovative display of violence. The fight scenes between the killer and agent are choreographed presenting this almost balletic beauty of bloodlust.

Kyung-chul is a snivelling pathetic serial killer. He drives a school bus, and lures his victims by playing the Good Samaritan. Offering to assist women waiting by the bus stop in the rain, or in the case of Soo-hyun’s fiancé whose car had broken down. He’s an opportunist killer, who strikes whenever the victim presents themselves to him as he tours around. Kyung-chul just happened one day to murder the daughter of a Police chief and the fiancé of a special agent and that leads to his downfall.

Soo-hyun goes about tracking his fiance’s killer by basically going down a list of the most prevalent deviant sex offenders in Seoul. He goes beyond traditional Police methods, and assaults each person on the list until he comes across the man who murdered his fiancé. It leads to a showdown in a greenhouse situated on a field in the outskirts of the city, as Soo-hyun comes face to face with Kyung-chul.

The film could have ended there. Soo-hyun could’ve killed Kyung-chul. Instead Soo-hyun perversely decides to prolong the suffering. He inserts a tracking device orally into Kyung-chul, and leaves him in a shallow grave. Kyung-chul is left confused, but despite being battered, a little broken and bruised, he attempts to continue his reign of terror. Only this time, before he can harm his next victim, Kyung-chul is interrupted by Soo-hyun who continues physically and psychologically breaking him down.

In what otherwise might be a horrible piece of torture porn, director Kim Jee-woon is able to add some very dark humour to proceedings. At various points along the film there is some awkward laugh out moments, for example Kyung-chul’s clumsiness in locating his murder weapon in the taxi, and later in the movie his interactions with a trashy cannibalistic serial killer couple. ‘I Saw The Devil’ has depth, it could be because of Choi Min-sik’s magnetic performance, it might also be because of masterful cinematography. Above all else it is a film that illustrates the complexity of evil.

 

– RJW

8/10

 

I Saw The Devil on IMDB

 

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Django Unchained (2012)

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Self indulgence is something well known to Quentin Tarantino and is evidently displayed heartily and unashamedly coursing throughout his directorial back catalogue. It’s hardly a surprise though that the Weinsteins give him free reign since he almost single-handedly saved Miramax from going under in the 90s with Reservoir Dogs and, most notably, Pulp Fiction. The problem now is that he doesn’t have anyone to actually produce his films properly, say no to him or edit the fluff in the cutting room, in fact Tarantino has only one film in his canon that follows a recognisable narrative structure and holds the interest for its full run time, Jackie Brown.

It seems that Tarantino’s onanism reached something of a nadir following the eye-gougingly boring Deathproof and the sloppy Inglorious Basterds as with Django Unchained he returns to the Jackie Brown template of telling an actual story in a comprehensive manner. Maybe he listened to the negative press regarding his recent output and noticed that general interest in his work was cooling with only his fan base showing the levels of appreciation that have plummeted since his mid 90s heyday or maybe he just wanted to show that he can still be considered a cutting edge director with his finger on the filmmaking pulse.

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Django Unchained follows QT’s latest muse Christoph Waltz as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz and an ice cool Jamie Foxx as the titular hero around the American south in search of the latter’s German born girlfriend Broomhilda. Along the way they meet a variety of Tarantino-esque villains and curiosities, as usual all filled by aging and past it stars ripe for the QT resurrection, Bruce Dern makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo and Don Johnson shines as a caricature of Colonel Sanders. The ace-in-the-hole though is when our mismatched heroes reach the Candyland cotton plantation where Broomhilda is being kept and we’re introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie and his house slave Stephen as played by Samuel L Jackson.

It’s here that the story jumps into fifth gear, helped no end by the performances of the principal cast with DiCaprio and Jackson in arguably their best character roles. Leo, complete with tobacco stained teeth and dark bags under his eyes, plays Candie with an unsettling megalomaniacal tension that bubbles just under his pristinely dressed surface and viciously erupts when lessons need teaching, which we see when he has one of his Mandingo slaves torn apart by dogs, and when he discovers the duplicitous nature behind Waltz and Foxx’s reason for visiting his property which leads him to threaten the life of Broomhilda in the film’s best scene.

Jackson gives Stephen a limp and a cat like sneer to prove that this isn’t as grey as a black men versus white men battle of good against evil as it turns out that Stephen could just be the baddest of the bad with constant back-stabbing of and snitching on our protagonists even wishing a slow and painful death against Django after he could walk away a free man. Waltz is a joy as ever but does basically play a benevolent version of exactly the same character he was in Inglorious Basterds and Foxx plays it the straightest out of all the leads.

There’s been a lot said about the amount of negative cultural language used in the film and its depiction of racial inequality but this is a film about a time and a place in America where this behaviour wasn’t just rife it was the norm. It’s painful to see how humans without white skin were treated then and some of the punishments bestowed on them like the hot box are particularly disgusting but these things happened, it’s understandable that some people don’t want to be reminded of it but we do need to look back to move forward and when we’re faced with the reality of mistakes from our past then we’re more likely not to repeat them.

Because of the grotesquely vibrant characters and the ridiculous situations they find themselves in I can understand why the racial issues can be misunderstood, since at times, it verges on the cartoony, but that would be missing the point of the film, it’s just a story that takes place when this other stuff took place, nothing is glorified or gratuitously overplayed and there are good and bad people from all races. In fact the two main sympathetic characters, one black and one white (Waltz and Foxx), need and rely upon each other to fulfil their individual tasks.

The film is about half an hour too long displaying lingering remnants of Tarantino’s vanity but fortunately it’s not overly detrimental to the final product and the more familiar structure helps the pacing not to sag or dwell just when it seems it might. The stellar acting, cracking screenplay, beautiful costumes and typically booming soundtrack make Django Unchained an entertaining, gloriously violent trudge through a beautiful part of America in a time when the people were anything but.

– Greg Foster

Django Unchained on IMDB
Buy Django Unchained (DVD + UV Copy) [2013]

Bunraku (2010)

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Directed by: Guy Moshe

Style is a massive part of cinema, the look of a film can leave an indelible impression on the viewer. However on its own, as only one element of the bigger picture it can appear gaudy. ‘Bunraku’ has an abundance of style, it looks fantastic; yet it is let down by paper thin characters, and uninspiring acting. There is certain irony to this given the barman of the Horseless Horseman saloon makes paper models of the film’s two heroes.

My initial impressions of ‘Bunraku’ are very similar to how I felt after watching 2008’s ‘Franklyn’ and Zack Snyder’s ‘Sucker Punch’, both of which were visually stunning, taking you to dark dream worlds yet lacked the spark, of say, a ‘300’ or a ‘Sin City’, with quotable meme-making lines and oodles of dumb action packed fun. There are plenty of good concepts, but none of them are executed with any panache.

Story wise Bunraku is a wild west meets samurai revenge saga. Nikola the Woodcutter, who looks like he’s part of the white man reggae club, with his natty dreads and down & out wizard attire runs a post-apocalyptic town with draconian laws that is free of guns. To gain control of the town you must defeat Nikola and his feared band of killers. The elite of which are numbered from two to ten. The town’s population is drab and grey, with the proletariat living meekly under Nikola’s heavy thumb.

A faraway train brings two strangers into town. Josh Hartnett’s slugging nameless cowboy drifter and a sword less samurai called Yoshi played by the Japanese pop rocker Gackt. Both of whom have a desire to chop down the Woodcutter. It seems that the screenplay hedges its bets. Why do we need two strangers entering the town? Both of whom are so very similar, the only difference being they represent the stereotypical heroes of United States and Japan. Our two heroes are monosyllabic two sides of the same coin.

Though ‘Bunraku’ contains the kind of costumes that would be apt for a typical attendee of Comic Con, with red suited Russian mafia hoodlums, and an assortment of Steampunk looking fellows, we have a surplus of wonky heroes and villains. Kevin McKidd’s ‘Killer #2’ channels Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s Judge Doom, his odd Yorkshire accent and Christopher Walken inspired choreographed fight moves make him the king of Strictly Come Kung Fu fighting. McKidd is however the best thing in the movie. Demi Moore plays a reluctant whore called Alexandra. We are introduced to her clothed in a bath, then in the next scene she appears naked in a bath, receiving a massage from a trout faced servant. Moore contributes nothing to the movie. It’s amazing to think that at one time she was an A-list leading lady, now she’s best known as Ashton Kutcher’s former flame.

There are innovative fight scenes galore, which include a nice but brief Streets of Rage meets the famous Old Boy hammer fight that sees Josh Hartnett biffing his way through a prison, with each connecting punch getting a 8-bit Nintendo sound effect, the action is bogged down by wasteful scenes chock full of sludgy sluggish dialogue. Woody Harrelson’s bartender dispenses meaningless fortune cookie wisdom and Ron Perlman’s Woodcutter’s depressed mumbles are woefully uninteresting. When Perlman and Moore share a scene, it is painful, like overhearing the echo of mind-numbingly mournful conversation drifting down the sterile corridor of a hospice.

What ‘Bunraku’ lacks is charisma. The usually dependable Harrelson is reduced to pouring drinks and giving lifts to Hartnett and Gackt. It makes you wonder, in better hands, with wiser casting and a revised script ‘Bunraku’ could have been a cult classic

– RJW
5/10

Bunraku on IMDB
Buy Bunraku [DVD]