75 Films From Asia: SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (2005)

Park Chan-wook conclude his Vengeance Trilogy with one of the most underrated pieces of cinema ever created.

CREDIT: CJ Entertainment

The final film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is another fantastic inclusion in the masterclass of work that he has created. Lady Vengeance (2005) follows a similar pattern to Oldboy (2003) as it follows a woman released from prison for a murder she did not commit. Lee Geum-ja played by Lee Young-ae seeks revenge from the real murderer and this gets bloody fast. Now, even if the story sounds similar to Oldboy (2003), Chan-wook turns the table on you and creates another riveting and nuanced installment in his trilogy. The film not only follows by the beat of its drum but it also manages to include some of the most beautiful imagery I’ve seen yet.

Park Chan-wook is a director of many skills and this movie shows how rough his work can be but also including such tender nuances like the importance of a Mother being there for her daughter, sharing trauma to move past it together, and truly not being able to move on from trauma even if it is “fixed.” The world of this film is grim with a prison system that is so corrupt and unorganized that it allows for sexual assault and power structures to emerge inside. There’s a scene that truly empowers the idea of “teamwork makes the dream work.” I am so happy that I watched these three incredible films, and cannot wait to finish the rest of his filmography. One thing is certain, Park Chan-wook is my favorite Korean director and I am one hundred percent confident of that.

Watch Lady Vengeance (2005) on Shudder. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.

75 Films From Asia: SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002)

The first film of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is explosive, bloody, and incredibly nuanced from start to end.

CREDIT: CJ Entertainment

I don’t know if I am just excited to continue with this challenge or just the thought of watching and reviewing a film by legendary Korean director, Park Chan-wook, which makes me incredibly excited? This is the first of his Vengeance Trilogy and I am starting to feel somewhat dumb for watching this one after Oldboy (2003) but maybe after this is all done I will watch the trilogy in order. Even though I had watched other films of his before this absolutely nothing could prepare me for this anxiety-inducing film from Chan-wook.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) follows the story of a deaf brother and his girlfriend as they try to acquire money for a kidney transplant for his sister by holding a wealthy man’s daughter for ransom. The film includes the cast of  Song Kang-ho, Bae Doona, Han Bo-bae, and Im Ji-eun as they deliver excellent performances. Everyone is fantastic in this film, but I have to give it up for Shin Ha-kyun whose body language and mannerisms truly make the character of Ryu. Of course, Song Kang-ho is incredible as he always is and I think I might have to admit that he is probably one of if not the best Korean actor of all time.

The film does take a bit to unravel at first but once it picks up you are in for a ride that only Park Chan-wook can create. There are blood, sweat, and tears throughout this whole film with incredible levels of nuance on the subject matter. Once again, Chan-wook is no stranger to tackling classism and the faults of capitalism. He also tackles the state of the opposition against the higher class and how some may not even think such opposition even exists. Not only is this well written but it is photographed magnificently by Kim Byung-il, seriously every other shot can be hung up on a wall as an art piece. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) is another masterpiece by the genius director and one that stands out in his already prolific filmography.

Watch Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) on Shudder. You can keep up with this movie challenge of mine by checking out my Letterboxd or the google doc of all the films I will be watching and reviewing.

75 Films From Asia: SHOPLIFTERS (2018)

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters (2018) is a perfectly crafted film that plays a tune with your heartstrings that you never want to end.

CREDIT: GAGA Pictures

So if you were betting that I wouldn’t give out a five star in the first five movies I review for this challenge, then sadly today you lost, my friends. I don’t think I could even prepare myself for this movie. I wanted to watch this one not just because it won the Palme d’Or, but I’ve been recommended to watch Kore-eda’s work multiple times. I have to say that this did not disappoint in the slightest.

Shoplifters (2018) features a group of outsiders all banded together by their misfit qualities take into their home a little girl, which sets off a wide array of events and secrets surrounding the “family.” The film has its various twists and turns, which makes you learn to love this obscure family. You spend so much time with each character that makes it hard to say goodbye to some of them. Kor-eda does such a great job of making you care for these characters that when you find out the reason why they are together, it is hard to hold onto your prior feelings about them.

Kor-eda also includes necessary conversations in social class structures and classism. Why is it that the family has to shoplift to survive? Why do some of the family members have to resort to sex work as a means of making money? Overall, do any of these things make these strangers any less of a family than those of us bound by blood? The analysis included in this film is powerful and one that I will keep in mind when discussing some of the best movies from this challenge.

Shoplifters (2018) is available to watch on Hulu. Catch up on the rest of this challenge by visiting my Letterboxd or the google doc that includes all the films that I am covering. I implore every single person reading this review to watch this film, you will absolutely not regret it.

75 Films From Asia: OLDBOY (2003)

Bloody, suspenseful, and filled with twists and turns, Park Chan-wook creates a masterclass in storytelling.

CREDIT: Show East

This is not my first rodeo with South Korean cinema and by now you can tell I am not watching one whole country of films which sounds like a better idea right now but I am in too deep. I loved the Academy Award-winning film Parasite (2019) along with what I consider the best zombie film, Train to Busan (2016), and of course, I was amazed by Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden (2016). I still felt that my knowledge of South Korean cinema was vastly minimal, and because of that, I decided to begin with this gem.

Oldboy (2003) directed by legendary Korean filmmaker, Park Chan-wook, looks at Dae-Su (Cbol Min-sik) as he tries to find the man that mysteriously imprisoned him and the events that would unravel with this journey. This is the second film in a trilogy of three different films that do not follow an overarching story called, Vengeance Trilogy. The film is an absolute masterpiece but I seem to be saying twice now with this being the second film from Chan-wook I have seen. Everything from the amazing musical score to the incredible choreography of the corridor fight scene makes this one of the best movies I have ever seen. This beautifully stylized picture never lets you go from the beginning to the end. It is filled with twists and turns as normal for a Park Chan-wook film. As I progress on with this challenge I am without a doubt this makes it into my top 5 for sure.

Remember you can follow along with this challenge by following my Letterboxd list, or the google doc list of films that are left to watch.

75 Films From Asia: IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)

Wong Kar-wai crafts an incredibly intimate film that depicts accurately what loneliness and heartbreak feels like.

CREDIT: Block 2 Pictures

We have reached Hong Kong, and when I began drafting the films for this challenge I was excited to watch some work from a specific director from Hong Kong. I was told this director was incredibly important in not just Hong Kong Cinema but cinema in general. I knew I had to watch something from the legendary Wong Kar-wai soon. Now, I will not lie and say this was my first film from Kar-wai, because I watched Chungking Express (1994) for a class project beforehand. Even though I had watched one piece from his work before absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the glorious film that is In The Mood For Love (2000).

Filled with rich stylized sets and profound dialogue, In The Mood For Love (2000) is a carefully sensual forbidden love story that refuses to let go until the credits roll. The story follows two people who develop feelings for each other after they discover that their spouses are having a love affair. What comes after in this masterpiece is beautiful, saddening, but so exquisite to consume. Loneliness and heartbreak are depicted carefully inside of a world that cannot allow these two to properly fall in love with each other. Wong Kar-wai is a director who approaches his work with such tender care but is still able to bring in his style to the forefront. Every single minute of this movie was eye-opening and I never wanted to stop watching it. I am so excited to watch more of his work throughout this challenge and fall in love with it as I fell in love with this picture.

As always feel free to follow along with the challenge on my Letterboxd list for mini-reviews, this column for more in-depth reviews, or find the rest of the films that I am going to watch on this google doc.