Collyrium – Action and vengeance in Park Chan-Wook’s movies

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Time has come to spend a few words on Korean cinema so we decided to talk about Park Chan-Wook who is certainly not the father nor the emblem of this great cinema that over the years has been loved all over the world. It is however certain this director best represents contemporary Korean cinema, cultured and entertaining at the same time. This because Park Chan Wook, unlike some of his colleagues, in particular, Kim Ki-Duk who prefers a more meager and intimate narrative, fills his action films of twists but above all with plentiful beauty. To some, surely, the director’s name does not suggest a lot as the fame of his films preceded him by far. Chan-Wook is, in fact, the director of Lady Vendetta, but above all of Old Boy, a film which had as much an impact as to win the Cannes festival Grand Prize of the Jury and that was also the subject of an unnecessary remake, by the well-known American director Spike Lee.

Park Chan-Wook was born in South Korea, more precisely in Seoul, in August 1963. His interests moved from cinema to adolescence, so much so that he tried to enroll in the faculty of Aesthetics, but being refused, he switched to Philosophy. During his university years, the director will make the big screen his passion and profession. He immediately founded a cine-club he named Film Gang which is where Park began writing about cinema in the form of short critique, essay and review articles, which a few years later began to be published in various magazines. It is only once he obtained his degree that Park Chan-Wook will produce his first feature film, Moon Is … Sun’s Dream, which unfortunately ended soon on the back burner. The beating was such the aspiring director halted his efforts for a few years which he dedicated to write and nourish his external world. Trio, his second job, unfortunately, had the same fate.

Park Chan-Wook, however, this time holds firm and produces Judgment, a short film which is finally welcomed by critics and the public. It is in fact after this first “success” that the Korean director will start to dispose of larger budgets helping him to set up the films having made his name remembered in the history of cinema. In 2000, Joint Security Area was directed, its a movie narrating the precarious social and military balance between the two Koreas. This third feature film has been an extraordinary success, especially in Europe, where he competed in a number of big festivals, including the renowned Berlinale.

Park Chan-Wook is now an undoubtedly well-established director who by overcoming the wave of success puts his hands back to an old script: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. This work marks a starting point for the director: Mr. Vengeance is, in fact, the first of the famous revenge trilogy films. This theme, very dear to the director since his first works, is taken up again, rejuvenated and filled with a good deal of action that will characterize all his future cinema.

Despite the lack of domestic success the movie left the rest of the world speechless, although never as much as Old boy, the second chapter of the Vendetta trilogy, is nowadays considered a real cult film and indeed contains all its elements. A cast of extraordinary actors and, unlike many Hollywood productions, a definitely well executed never-ending action plot that is, to say the least, shocking. It is the story of a man seeking revenge by hammering and brutality for having without a reason being locked up in a room for fifteen years by an unknown character. Even by this brief synopsis, we realize how Old boy is an extremely raw and violent film, as often only Asian art is capable of delivering. It is perhaps because of its brutality the movie is talked about all over the world, winning the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes, where the jury was chaired by Quentin Tarantino, that immediately fell in love with this movie and his director.

Only two years later, in 2005, the trilogy ends with Lady Vengeance, last film on the theme of revenge, but this time with a female protagonist.

Park’s last works, which today are perhaps his best-known movies, have many common themes and styles, but perhaps most notably all these films address of a very specific social theme: the powerful’s abuse over the weaks. This strong human matrix will capture the audience’s empathy with the protagonists turning every vindictive cruelty a great pleasure for the viewer. The director’s words express his very precise idea of revenge:

“living without hating is almost impossible, there is nothing wrong with fantasizing about revenge, we all have these feelings, the important thing is not to act”

At the end of this extremely gratifying chapter, Chan-Wook opens up a new experiment with the production of the most original and directorially surprising films of recent years, among which I’m a Cyborg But That’s Ok. This 2006 work is a love story taking place in a psychiatric hospital, through the patients’ hallucinations the viewer will be left wondering until the final outcome where reality ends and madness begins. This perspective highlights the director’s abilities. The emotions of the protagonists appear to us so distant but at the same time so close and personal and the beauty of life is displayed through the characters most ruinous and destructive fantasies.

It is from this moment the director dedicates to international, more specifically American productions, through which his style will shine and consolidate all over the world. Among his stars and stripes movies, Stoker, which boasts an exceptional cast consisting of Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode, and the miniseries The Little Drummer Girl are worth mentioning.

It is important however not to forget Park Chan Wook has not left his homeland to devote himself exclusively to Hollywood cinema. Not at all. The director’s latest feature film, The Handmaiden, is, in fact, a wonderful all-Korean film which, thanks to its even aesthetic splendor, has won numerous festival prizes and earned a nomination for the Golden Palm.

Park Chan-Wook is certainly not a director for all as many of his films are very raw and of difficult digestion for the weakest stomachs. But this does not make him a weaker director, on the contrary. Park Chan-Wook is an artist who has succeeded in imposing his often violent and extreme language on the world, but thanks to a careful look at contemporary humanity, has made his way among the gods of cinema, gaining his own space in the Olympus.

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