TKFF 2012 – Oldboy Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto Korean Film Festival 2012

Oldboy (2003)

Starring – Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong, Ji Dae-han and Kim Byeong-ok

Written by Hwang Jo-hyun, Lim Chun-hyeong, Lim Joon-hyung and Park Chan-wook (based on the Manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi)

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Now the undeniable creative leader of the Korean film movement of the last decade is by far and away Park Chan-wook. Starting with 2000’s JSA: Joint Security Area director Chan-wook has delivered diverse and ground-breaking films like the three films that make up the Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK, and Thirst. Even though the Toronto Korean Film Festival wrapped over a week ago, I would like to use the background of the TKFF to talk about one of my favorite Korean films of all time, Old Boy.

Oh Dae-su (Min-sik) has always been a troublemaker. We open in a police station where Dae-su has been brought in on a drunken disorderly charge. After a series of funny outbursts Dae-su is sprung by his high school friend No Joo-hwan (Dae-han). It’s also Dae-Su’s daughter’s birthday and as Joo-Hwan talks to Dae-su’s wife explaining that he will get Dae-su home he suddenly disappears from a crowded street. Dae-su wakes in a locked room without any explanation. This cell will be his home for the next 15 years. We watch as Dae-su goes through his routine inside the cell, occasionally getting dosed with knockout gas so that his sheets can be changed and his hair cut, as he fights depression and starts training and preparing for whenever he may get released by punching a solid brick wall. One day 15 years later Dae-su wakes up on a roof of a building in the exact same spot where he was taken 15 years earlier. A suicidal man stands on the ledge of the building ready to jump until Dae-su forcefully makes him listen to his tale. After his confession the man states he wants to tell his tale which prompts Dae-su to stand up and promptly leave without another word. Dae-su wanders the streets until he ends up in front of a restaurant when a homeless man gives him a phone and wallet full of cash with the simple statement “Don’t bother asking me anything, I know nothing”. Once entering the restaurant Dae-su meets Mi-do (Hye-jeong), a young server/cook who looks to help him, and after receiving a phone call from his captor promptly passes out. Dae-su ends up at Mi-do’s home and she becomes his accomplice in piecing together the missing 15 years. Eventually Dae-su meets with Lee Woo-jin (Ji-Tae) and his accomplice Mr Han (Byeong-ok). Woo-jin gives him 5 days to discover who he is and why he imprisoned him for 15 years. The story continues as Dae-su unravels the mystery and moves along to one of the most shocking twists in film history.

Choi Min-sik has never been better than he is as Oh Dae-su. If he truly is Korea’s Robert DeNiro (he is) then Oh Dae-su is his Jake Lamotta or Travis Bickle, or maybe more appropriately the two of them combined. Min-sik is simply brilliant in one of the greatest performances I have seen on-screen. Kang Hye-jeong’s Mi-do is the reason Dae-su comes back to reality and does not simply fly off the handle in an infinite fit of rage. The rest of the performances are just as solid throughout. Wook-park once again proves his mastery in casting and storytelling. Oldboy has become iconic for its hallway fight sequence, where Oh Dae-su decimates a small army with only a hammer in hand, and its stunning final sequence. But it’s the smaller sequences like those in the jail cell and the ever cryptic ending that flesh out the story and really drive the impact home.

Oldboy is one of what I like to call an “all-time top tenner” as I love it so much it will seemingly always have a spot on my all-time top ten films list and in many other top ten lists as well. I cannot recommend Oldboy strongly enough, it is an absolute must see.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

Follow me on twitter @moviejunkieto

Contact me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

TKFF Sympathy for Lady Vengeance Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto Korean Film Festival 2012

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Starring – Lee Yeong-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kwon Yea-yeong and Kim See-hoo

Written by Park Chan-wook and Jeoung Seo-gyeong

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Now the undeniable creative leader of the Korean film movement of the last decade is by far and away Park Chan-wook. Starting with 2000’s JSA: Joint Security Area, director Chan-wook has delivered diverse and ground-breaking films like the three films that make up the Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), I’m a Cyborg but that’s OK, and Thirst. Even though the Toronto Korean Film Festival wrapped over a week ago, I would like to use the background of the TKFF to talk about my two favorite Korean films of all time, Old Boy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

Lady Vengeance starts with the release of Lee Geum-ja, after 13 1/2 years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of a young boy. Upon her release a preacher (Kim Byeong-ok), who she has been working with during her incarceration, meets her in front of the prison with the traditional present of a block of tofu. The tofu symbolizes a “white life” or not breaking the law again after her release. Geum-ja promptly dumps the tofu on the ground and walks away. You see, Geum-ja has been the perfect inmate for a reason, because it has served her plans for revenge to have everybody she helped inside help her execute her plan. Forced to take the blame of the kidnapping/murder by the devious Mr. Beak (Min-sik), Geum-ja was also forced to leave her newborn daughter behind as well. We see a series of flashbacks to prison sequences where we see how Geum-ja earned the nickname “The Witch” in prison; she dispatches one abusive inmate over a series of years in a very deliberate and methodical manner. Each of the inmates she helped in prison will now play a part in her grand master plan to exact her revenge. After tracking her daughter down to Australia where she was taken after adoption, we are introduced to the precocious Jenny (Yea-yeong) who ends up demanding to go back to Korea with her mom, complicating things further. While filled with cameos from actors that have been in both of the two prior Vengeance movies (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Oldboy), Lady Vengeance keeps ratcheting up the suspense until the surprising and extremely effective ending.

This truly is a fantastic film. Lee Yeong-ae is mesmerizing on-screen, her performance is flawless as the wronged Geum-ja. She dominates the screen whenever she is on it and in one second can be flat-out mean then angelic a mere second later. Wook-park’s strongest female protagonist, which is saying something as he forms female characters very well, Geum-ja is a brilliant character whose story is truly compelling. Of course Geum-ja needs a strong protagonist to make this story work, so Wook-park goes to the big gun and brings in the incomparable Choi Min-sik. I have said this many times to friends and others in conversation and will state it here and now in print, Min-sik is Korea’s version of Robert Deniro circa the Mean Streets through Goodfellas era. Yes he is THAT good and he immediately elevates everything he does, more to come on him in my Oldboy review. The rest of the cast also does admirable work in spinning a fascinating tale that never ceases to surprise. Wook-park’s direction is masterful and his story building expertise is on full display.

After the Masterpiece that is Oldboy, Lady Vengeance could have been a letdown as so many follow-ups are. Instead we are treated to a completely different tale that manages to more than hold in Oldboy’s shadow. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is an absolute must see.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

Follow me on twitter @moviejunkieto

Contact me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

Toronto Korean Film Festival Preview (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto Korean Film Festival 2012

5 Reasons you need to check out the TKFF

This month brings the launch of a new film festival for us residents of “Festival City” aka Toronto. The Toronto Korean Film Festival runs from June 22nd until July 1st over 9 days and aims to introduce those not familiar to some of the best of Korean film. For its inaugural event the staff of TKFF have decided to feature a best of Korean Cinema lineup, rather than just new undiscovered cinema, as an introduction for the non-indoctrinated and to offer a rare chance to see these films on a theater screen to those who have seen them before at home. That said, I will now tell you the 5 reasons why I will be in attendance.

5 – Korean Culture. The festival organizers are just as motivated to introduce people to Korean culture in general as they are about its cinema. For those whose knowledge of Korean culture is derived mainly from its film, like myself, this is could be an intriguing opportunity to learn more about the country that inspired these cinematic gems.

4 – Quirky Comedy. Sunday the 24th  brings us a double bill of Korean comedy with Save the Green Planet and Invasion of  Alien Bikini. Green Planet is a TIFF Midnight Madness graduate that I saw back in 2003 about a man who kidnaps someone who he is convinced is an alien and his bumbling attempts to torture him into confessing it. Bikini is a film I have yet to see, but it’s been on my radar for a while, it’s about a female alien in need of sperm. Yes quirky is the key word here folks.

3 – Korean Horror. Sat the 25th gives us an exciting double bill of Korean horror that I haven’t seen, despite the fact that I actually own one the films! Eptitaph is a film set in a Korean hospital during the 1940’s and tells three different horrifying stories of events that occur in the hallways and rooms of the institution. A Tale of Two Sisters from 2003 is from one of Korea’s greatest new directors Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil; Foul King; and The Good, The Bad and the Weird) and was his first big smash crossover international hit. The creepy story of two doomed twin sisters is considered a classic of Korean genre cinema.

2 – Bong Joon-ho’s Mother. On Friday June 29th the TKFF will screen the critical smash hit Mother from another of Korea’s burgeoning directors Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Memories of Murder). The searing brilliant lead performances from its two lead actors (Kim Hye-ja as the titular Mother, and Bin Won) are a must see. This little mystery explores the bond between a mother and her son as her 28 year old developmentally challenged son is accused of murder, a charge she will literally do anything to clear him of. A brilliant 2009 festival smash, Mother is one of the gems of this fest.

And the number 1 reason…Park Chan-wook appreciation/closing night. July 1st closes the festival with bang as we get one of my favorite films of all-time playing that night, the second entry in the famed “Vengeance” trilogy, Oldboy, and its follow up Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Both films feature brilliant acting performances from the incomparable Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su in Oldboy and Mr. Beak in Lady Vengeance. Oldboy is brilliant filmmaking with an unbelievable ending that will stun and amaze. Lady Vengeance is more of a character piece with a strong lead performance from Lee Yeong-ae. This is visual proof of Park’s brilliance and absolute must see films on a theater screen. If you attend only one evening of the festival, this is it.

As I stated earlier, the festival runs from June 22nd to July 1st.  All screenings are located at the Innis Town Hall, on the U of T campus, at 2 Sussex Ave. For ticket availability and pricing please visit their website at TKFF.

I hope to see some of you readers join me in celebrating Korean film.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

Follow me on twitter @moviejunkieto

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑