Friday, February 12, 2010
Dai-su, an ordinary person, is kidnapped near a phone booth and taken to a well furnished apartment, where he is kept in captivity for fifteen years. Who has done it and why and for how long will this continue? Among the comforts he is provided is a TV set and he learns of his wife's murder and his own implication in it. As the years roll, he starts patiently digging through the wall, and as his escape channel nears completion, he is inexplicably freed and dropped in a street. He is able to identify his enemy, one Joo-Hwan, but the discovery of the cause for which he has been so severely punished forms the substance of the rest of this revenge drama, savage in the extremes of hatred it portrays. The two sworn enemies interlock their wills in a spiral of intensifying violence, often unendurable to see (tooth extraction with a claw hammer, sans anaesthesia).
These are larger than life characters and situations, which may justify the improbably convoluted and macabre(almost artistic) schemes of vengeance, since the two lives are almost symbiotic in their single reason for existing. Joo-Hwan's final lament, after he has accomplished his goal, is "What will I live for now?"
One can see in the film aspects of Shakespearean or Greek drama, martial arts movies or "Korean-horror". Whatever the case, the desire for revenge is a deep seated, consuming and insatiable human lust, whether one thinks of Shakespeare or 9/11, and the logic of an-eye-for-an-eye is not easy to refute, as history is a witness. In that sense, the improbabilities of plot are of secondary importance. The past century has shown us far more diabolical, cold, premeditated evil. The film is consistent in it's internal logic, and illuminates extreme's of the human heart's capabilities for suffering.
No family flick, this. Also my first (not last) exposure to Korean cinema, courtesy blogger Seongyong Cho.
Roger Ebert's review
NY Times review