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Oldboy (2003)

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An unmatched, disconcertingly poetic, and visually brutal tale of vengeance that never ceases challenging its viewer. Chan-Wook Park’s “Oldboy” manages to find new ways to discombobulate and disturb while remaining mesmerizingly visceral and unbelievably disheartening. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more taut character study that is truly unbound, cruel, and stretches to the furthest reaches of comprehensiveness. Although it may blur like a dream-sequence, mar any sense of humanity, and plaster your thoughts with violence long after it ends. “Oldboy” is a lyrical, ambient thriller that honestly depicts the power of love and loss. Containing one the most brilliantly choreographed and exhausting fight-sequences in cinematic history, a stomach-churning consumption, and a reveal that is sure to linger. “Oldboy” is a vivid nightmare you’ll be glad to experience again and again.

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Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) is a business man and a notorious womanizer. On the night of his young daughter’s birthday, he is kidnapped and placed in a hotel-like prison. Confined to this room with no human contact or explanation for his imprisonment, his only connection the outside world is a television. Soon, he learns that his wife has been murdered and that he is the prime suspect. Oh Dae-su passes the time shadowboxing and planning his revenge. After fifteen years pass, he is released, also with no explanation. Given only several days to find his captor and discover the reason for his confinement, Oh Dae-su is forced to make quick friends and even faster decisions.

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Amidst the physical onslaught and weaving its way through a fair amount of sensitive themes. “Oldboy” is somehow able to exude some very dark humour. However, this is not the only surprise director Chan-Wook Park offers in this ferocious, almost Shakespearean neo-noir. While “Oldboy” is exceedingly violent, at times down-right cringe worthy, it is not excessively gory. A true testament to the strength, subtlety, and beauty in Park’s work behind the camera. And even though it may not be Park by the book, it is delectable to witness his work unrestrained and unfinished, as if his imperfect perfection makes the film that much more rough and unsettling. This raspy, unpleasant film may not be for everyone, but to further cement how important and powerful “Oldboy” is, keep in mind it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004. They don’t give out that acknowledgement to just any film…but I digress.

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Granted, “Oldboy” isn’t the most rewarding or satisfying flick out there and it doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. With Park Chan Wook’s “Oldboy” what you see is what you get, not that I’m complaining. It’s like a puzzle that you don’t fully understand until you start taking it apart, piece by piece. It is feverishly appeasing to all the cinematic senses and while it may not necessarily be a story that needs to be told. “Oldboy” is a brilliant take on what it means to be human and how low one has to sink in order to have that privilege revoked. Why the film manages to shock is obviously due to its reveal. However, the reason it’s so effective is because of the viewers inability to foresee the reveal coming. Not because it is sly or intricate, simply put…we don’t want it to be true. It’s a story of morals and righteousness that doesn’t teach a lesson.

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“Oldboy” is a phenomenal series of highs and lows, it pulsates like a distant star. There is hope, then despair, a series of positives and negatives. Nothing is ever permanent or stable and this adds a seriously complex layer to the film that its leads are left to master. For example, Min-sik Choi’s protagonist is constantly built up and torn down. Resulting in a varying set of emotional requirements that he is left to try and balance. Nonetheless, Choi’s diverse range is predictably outstanding and he is nothing short of intimidating, spectacular, and relentless throughout. Ji-tae Yu’s antagonist is a repulsive, obsessive, regressive villain that never fails to astound with his deplorable, blood-thirsty tendencies, and of course Yu portrays this disgust immaculately. As for Hye-jeong Kang, she gives an honestly heartfelt and terrified performance, but compared to these heavyweight actors, she gets lost in their brilliance.

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Brutal, disturbing, heartfelt, and utterly unnerving. Chan Wook Park’s “Oldboy” might not be for the faint of heart, but if you can take it, it’s one hell of a bumpy ride.

Oldboy: 9.5 out of 10.

I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006)

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A film that transcends genre labelling with its innovation, ingenuity, and insanity. “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” is approximately a romantic comedy, but with dark, at times violent, and bizarre twists, containing moments that differ vastly on the cinematic spectrum. “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” ranges from deviously psychotic to sweetly honest, impassioned, and comical. Writer and director Chan-wook Park somewhat diverges from his usual business of trifling with the ugliness inside humanity to display a more compassionate, creative, and comedic side to his craft that isn’t all doom and gloom. Although its tone is highly unpredictable, shifting from affectionate and charming to tragic and unrestrained, “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” shouldn’t be too jarring for the occasional viewer. Charismatic, witty, and undeniably enthralling, Chan-wook Park has proven he isn’t just a one-trick pony.

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Young-goon works in a factory constructing radios and believes that she is a cyborg. She is institutionalized after she cuts her wrist, shoves a set of wires inside her forearm, and then plugs the cord into a wall outlet in an attempt to recharge herself. Young-goon refuses to eat and only licks batteries in order to recharge. Il-soon, who is also a patient, becomes infatuated with Young-goon. Il-soon thinks of himself as a master-thief and believes he can steal physical and personal traits of other humans. After a brief stage in which the two form an awkward relationship, the two begin to help one another with insane schemes.

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Very rarely does a film come along that is such a genuine hybrid. But it does make sense that it would come from the mind of Chan-wook Park. Who has busted stereotypical cinema on numerous occasions, including drama, horror and thriller. Now, with “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok,” Park tackles perhaps his most difficult challenge to date, the romantic comedy. This film is easily one of the most crazy, obscure, and confusing films I’ve ever come across, but it is also one of the best. I don’t think I’ve ever stumbled upon a film that evokes such emotional diversification as “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” does. While it may be paced slower than Park’s other outings, it is deliberate. During this screen-time, “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” stretches the viewer’s brain by provoking countless reactions and striking numerous nerves, a truly unprecedented experience.

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Chan-wook Park is one of the most iconic, revered, and important filmmakers of our time and “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” is a terrific example why. Park brilliantly showcases every single one of his illustrious facets throughout this atypical rom-com. Whether it may be his grounded, elemental framing that captures even the slightest detail and movement of his characters or the disheartening brutality of his dynamic scripts. Regardless, what truly makes Park such a praised figure in the cinematic community is his ability to evolve. After completing the “Vengeance” trilogy and generally sticking to darker pictures with heavy, brooding themes. Chan-wook Park unpredictably chose to unleash this hidden gem. While it remains true to his brute force and unruly material. “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” touches so many fresh ideals and bursts genre and theme misconceptions.

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The cast assembled for “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” is remarkably put together, as there is not a single weakness. From its two quirky, maladjusted leads down to every patient and caretaker at this unsettling asylum we’ve been invited to take temporary residence in. The supporting characters alone make “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” worth the watch. They astoundingly portray mental illness accurately but add a comical, yet heartbreaking depth and  individuality to each role that generates unlimited sympathy and laughs from the audience. Kudos should also be given to the actors who portray the doctors and nurses in the film who perfectly adapt to their roles.

Nonetheless, “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Ok” has only two leads and they are Jung Ji-Hoon and Im Soo-jung. Essentially what makes Jung Ji-Hoon and Im Soo-Jung work so well together is their ability to feed off one another’s unbalanced behaviour and lunacy. The two have an undeniable chemistry filled with demented and sociopathic tendencies. Despite these flaws, they manage to portray an eccentric, dysfunctional relationship to full comedic and emotional potential.

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From the unparalleled mind of Chan-wook Park comes this incredibly unique experience that should appease just about any cinephile.

I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK: 9 out of 10.

Three…Extremes (2004)

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Assembling three of the most prominent and respected directors in the genres of horror and thriller. Three…Extremes is a moody, vicious, and down right disgusting compilation. It features shorts directed by Chan-wook Park (Oldboy), Fruit Chan (Durian Durian), and Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer), each respectively unleashing their most emancipated efforts. While each short is equal in their monstrosity, individually they work on different levels and aspects of trepidation. The segments are entitled “Box” (Miike’s), “Cut” (Park), and “Dumplings” (Chan). Three…Extremes is consistent and even making it a rare spectacle in horror anthologies. When you combine Miike, Chan, and Park, you know what you’re getting yourself into. Sleep tight…

Dumplings: Fruit Chan.

An actress who is disgusted with her aging visits a woman to help her reclaim youth. The woman makes dumplings infused with a special ingredient that helps regenerate bodily properties. When the actress discovers what the special ingredient is, she is forced to make some difficult decisions on the length she is willing to go to retrieve her youthful looks.

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Cut: Chan-wook Park.

A film director returns home from work one evening when strange events start to occur. When an intruder knocks him unconscious, he wakes on one of his sets with his wife being tied to a piano. The captor then begins to play mind games with the couple. As the stakes are raised, the director begins to crumble under the pressure.

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Box: Takashi Miike.

A shy woman continuously has reoccurring nightmares in which she is buried alive in a box. While she is awake, she begins to see her long lost sister appear. During a series of flashbacks, the woman begins to realize the connection between her nightmares and apparitions.

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I’ve always found it a bit odd that no hostage ever seems to understand that their captor is criminally insane. However, being this insane comes with its fair share of hilarity and apparently Mr. Park thinks so as well. The out of place humour in his short “Cut,” is a wonderful comical contrast. “Cut” is by far the most diabolical and ruthless of the shorts, with its twists, brutal truths, and cringing gore. “Dumplings” by Fruit Chan is the one short I’ll issue a warning for. Deliberately crossing the line and never looking back, “Dumplings” is not for the squeamish. Mixing a smart story with unexplainable acts, literally deplorable, “Dumplings” will leave you turning away in repulsion. Finally, Takashi Miike’s “Box” is the more generic and tame of the three I guess you could say. In no way am I taking anything away from this spine chilling tale. I am just stating that in comparison, “Box” isn’t nearly as physically despicable. “Box” is an excellent scare and will put you on the edge of your seat in fear. With each short working off one another, Three…Extremes is a vomit inducing, psychologically scrambling, eye burning thrill.

Three…Extremes: 9 out of 10.

Stoker (2013)

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With Stoker, Chan-wook Park solidifies that in any language his is the master of chilling story telling and tension. The director of Oldboy and Thirst didn’t miss a step in his transfer to North American filmmaking and brought all of the qualities that make him so relevant and symbolic with him across the ocean. Assembling a cast that is anything but ordinary, Park needed an asymmetrical cast for an atypical film. Featuring Mia Wasikowska as a distant and dysfunctional teen, Nicole Kidman as her unapproachable mother, and Matthew Goode as her isolated and intriguing uncle, the cast of Stoker will collectively put you on an unnerving edge. Stoker is a psycho-sexual thriller that will leave you feeling right for all the wrong reasons.

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India Stoker (Wasikowska) is a secluded teen who’s father has just passed away in a car accident. Now India lives alone with her mother Evelyn (Kidman) with whom she never really got along with. After her father’s funeral, India is introduced to her father’s brother, her uncle, Charlie (Goode). India has never met Charlie before and his sudden arrival after her father’s death is mysterious. When Evelyn allows Charlie to stay with them for a while, India begins to think something is suspect with her new uncle and that he may have ulterior motives under his charming and polite manner.

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You can tell that with every film he creates, Chan-wook Park does his research. He doesn’t want to shelter the audience from any detail, no matter how unrelenting or unpleasant. It’s as if he is saying “These things exist, deal with it.” Again, Chan-wook Park doesn’t tiptoe through his stories, nor does he hit you over the head with them, he simply displays the poisonous breadcrumbs for you to follow. The piano sequence between Goode and Wasikowska is so deathly seductive, it is pure brilliance. Nicole Kidman becomes an openly regret filled parent who by the middle of the film you wish would die, which is the goal she set out to achieve. Goode is both an eloquent, robotic maniac and a psychotic, emotionally unbalanced, and unconsciously sporadic head case. Mia Wasikowska is the nucleus of this bizarre coming of age tale and she deservedly steals the spotlight. Black hair, pale skin, and welcoming attire, Wasikowska is the girl next door. Her dialogue is never expressly long and she doesn’t try to make good, play nice, or save face but she is so perfectly balanced between the cute schoolgirl and depressive outcast that even after all she does, it is impossible not to like her. Clint Mansell composes another spooky score as he did for Moon and it’s cautiously optimistic and epic tones create a dreadful contradiction in the most enticing way. Stoker is another feat for Park and the cast is triumphant in their distress.

Stoker: 8.5 out of 10.