by NIR SHALEV
Choi Min-sik (of Oldboy fame) plays a psychopathic killer and his latest, random victim is the fiancée of a special agent played by Lee Byung-hun (The Good, the Bad, the Weird). After her body is found, the agent’s superior offers him a month off work to recover from his grief but he claims to only need two weeks. He immediately sets off to find the killer using info provided by his fiancée’s father and ex-chief of police. Within a matter of days, the agent finds the killer in a greenhouse and a terrific fight ensues. The killer is beaten to unconsciousness, his right hand is crushed on a rock and he awakens to the sight of an envelope that’s full of money. Why, you ask? Because while the killer was unconscious, the agent slipped a GPS pill into his mouth and made him swallow it. That way, wherever he goes the agent could find him. And then beat him up and torture him further. And he does.
Every time that the two meet the fight is shorter than before but is far more brutal; breaking the killer’s right hand was nothing.
This is a film that showcases a cat and mouse chase where the mouse chases the cat. He knows every where that the cat will go but in the process of seeking revenge he turns into a monster. The ironic part, and one that separates this from the generic serial killer film, is that the agent doesn’t need to become a monster in order to hunt the killer. He simply turns it into a sort of sport. He captures him, tortures him, and then lets him go. The killer, being a psychopath doesn’t recognize the pattern because he’s used to randomly abducting and dismembering women and girls of all age ages. However, on an intellectual level, they are equals. And it greatly shows in the third act.
Now here’re a few more things that make this film unique. First off, if it was to be made in North America it would earn an NC-17 rating for its images of extreme graphic violence and also for the way that it uses the graphic violence. The filmmakers pull no punches when showcasing whatever they want. All of the dismemberments, stabbings, thudding of pipes and baseball bats, kicking and screaming are showcased with lots of gusto and are always difficult to watch. But while watching this film one has to constantly remind oneself that the killer “deserves what he’s getting.” Once in a while I almost sympathized with his pain, listening to him scream to the heavens, but then, in scenes following a brutal attack, we see just how crazy he really is and remember why he deserves everything that’s happening to him.
Another reason why this film is unique is because it contains outstanding performances by Choi and Lee. As the killer, Choi shows no sympathy. Early in the film when he’s about to chop up the fiancée of the agent she asks him to stop. He looks at her confused and asks, “Why?” She replies that she’s pregnant. He chops her regardless. Throughout the film Choi never blinks and there is nothing behind his eyes except pure darkness and the reflections of his brutal actions. Lee, on the other hand is merciless and constantly angry. When he comes across the killer in the greenhouse for the first time his face is pale and he looks like a killer himself. He can hardly contain his anger and his right eye twitches ever-so-slightly. He tears up throughout the film at random times but still always showcases anger and a terrific capacity to inflict pain.
This film is not rocket science but it caters to many variations of moviegoers: if you like excessive violence and brutal, graphic depictions of slaughter and pain then this film is for you. If you like films with a three act story structure or revenge thrillers, then this film is for you. If you like extremely realistic but outstanding performances, then this film is also for you. The Saw, Hostel, and Final Destination franchises have nothing on this film and if this film is ever to be remade in North America, I doubt that it would contain even half of what goes on in the original. The cannibalism aspect would definitely not be inserted.
This film came out to video last May and I don’t know how I could have taken this long to write it up. I’d watched it twice already and I simply can’t get Choi’s performance out of my mind. This film is a new kind of animal that needs to be appreciated.
The DVD and Blu-ray contain 27 minutes of deleted scenes and a 24 minute behind-the-scenes documentary on how the filmmakers shot all of the action sequences and all of the violent bits.
New releases this week: The Bang Bang Club, The Conspirator, Hoodwinked Too!, Jane Eyre, Priest, Queen to Play, Something Borrowed