Chan-wook Park. An important member of the South Korean New Wave of auteurs along with Bong Joon-ho and Chang-dong Lee. Chan-wook Park probably is not on the list without Oldboy– certainly a strength—but he even his weaker efforts bear the stamp of his ultraviolence, grotesque, and narrative twists. Painterly mise-en-scenes always have meant more to him than narrative cohesion or momentum. I’ve only seen each of his works once- so there is plenty of study to be done here.
Best film: Oldboy. I think there’s a fair amount of cinephiles out there that think it may be The Handmaiden. I’ve actually only seen both films once- so this is far from definitive- but right now I’d go with Oldboy.
total archiveable films: 4
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 1 (Oldboy)
most overrated: The Handmaiden. I admittedly owe it another visit- but the TSPDT consensus (via the top 1000 of the 21st century list) has it in the top 10 of 2016 and it didn’t land there for me. They also have Oldboy already in the top 500 of all-time and I’m not there yet either- though I’m not terrible far away.
most underrated : Nothing here for Chan-wook Park. Both Vengeance films are on the 21st century TSPDT consensus top 1000 but they aren’t in the top 10 (or terribly close) for their respective year.
gem I want to spotlight : 2005’s Lady Vengance. It now seems inevitable that 2003’s Oldboy was going to live up to.
- Long takes- the 3 ½ minute long corridor shot in Oldboy is almost as famous as the film itself (or Chan-wook Park himself)
- Violence, revenge films, genre cinema
- Narrative twists, incest
- Painterly medium, and medium-long shots — a dedication to background– even those critics that write him off because of his genre, or violence – can’t argue with these
- The Handmaiden
- Lady Vengeance
- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
By year and grades
|2002- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance||R|
|2003- Old Boy||HR/MS|
|2005- Lady Vengeance||R|
|2016- The Handmaiden||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
What about JSA ?
@KidCharlemagne- Haven’t caught it yet– worthwhile?
For me it’s the third or fourth best movie of Chan-wook Park. It might worth a watch.
Very exciting, new movie, Decision to Leave, is premiering at Cannes and should be available in US at some in the next several months.
@James Trapp- very exciting indeed!
Have you seen his 2013 film Stoker? It is his first English film and is heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. I would not quite call it a flat out remake but it skates close; think De Palma’s Dressed to Kill and Psycho. You even have an “Uncle Charlie” character played by Matthew Goode and 23 year old Mia Wasikowska playing a teenager and Nicole Kidman as her mother.
@James Trapp- I have seen Stoker- but it was back in 2013/14 when it was first available. Due for a revisit soon. Chan-wook Park is one of the contemporary directors I want to study next. I was wrong on Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and The Handmaiden when I first saw them– it took two viewings for me.
Chan-wook Park won best director at Cannes for “Decision to Leave” which is his first film in 6 years
92 on Rotten Tomates
88 on Metacritic
MUBI aquired streaming rights, it will premiere sometimes this Fall
@James Trapp- I cannot wait. Certainly the film from Cannes I am most excited to see.
@Drake – I’m curious if you have ever gone to a film festival before. I ask as my Aunt has and actually did an online/virtual one (largely due to COVID) where you pay to watch the films. Unlike a streaming service I don’t think you can watch anytime but rather you join a virtual group all watching at the same time.
@James Trapp- I went to one in New York- the New York City film festival in 2009. It was fun. I’ve thought about Toronto and Telluride as well. Before Bluray and such high quality home viewing my preference was always for retrospectives though. I went to one of David Lynch, one of Alfred Hitchcock- a few others.
I know you said you probably won’t be doing pages for individual films going forward but since you are still doing director studies are you going to do page updates for directors? You mentioned a Chan Wook Park study so are you going to update this page?
@James Trapp – Well the plan would be to update the directors list and get to him at that time (so it’ll be awhile). I have not been going back and updating the page (Bergman for example) as I go along in my studies. I’d like to update everything as I go- but that would require much more time than I have available right now.
@Drake – sounds good, I really appreciate all the hard work that goes into the site. How did you learn how to do this stuff? Did you take a computer course or just sort of learn as you go?
@James Trapp- Thank you- very nice of you to voice the appreciation here- completely my pleasure though. I just wish I had more time to post more and make it better. I have someone who helps me on and off with layout and some universal changes (and credit to the improvements) to the site. I am not overly IT savvy. The site is still rather rudimentary compared to many out there but I’d like to think some improvements have happened over the years.
Joint Security Area (2000)
This film is set around a confliction in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, this is an area which separates North and South Korea, the set up is a bit like “A Few Good Men” with a neutral party investigating a military crime, including an intelligent female investigator named Major Sophie, played by Lee Young-ae
Starts with shot of owl and then shot of moon on rainy night
8:16 makes use of entire frame with 3 characters in 3 different planes
10:42 beautiful shots in rain, changes from blue tint to green background when soldier aim their weapons
13:26 the great Song Kang-Ho makes his appearance, here lying in a hospital bed recovering from his injuries
22:30 cutaway shot to rollercoaster
26:53 great use of window as window to create frame
29:51 great overhead shot making the ground the ceiling
36:09 amazing low angle shot of Sgt. Oh disabling the field mine
37:53 taking full advantage of widescreen with North and South Korean soldiers in the snow facing off
43:30 360 camera movement stopping on faces of two North Korean soldiers and South Korean soldier who saved their lives in the field
52:44 great symbolism with the handshake, North and South Korea’s have been conditioned to hate each other since birth that even minimal contact seems terrifying and wrong, one solider even refers to it as “adultery”
56:53 separation by framing
1:03:50 handheld camera work creates feeling of chaos
1:05:50 camera moving 360 degrees again in room with North and South Korea soldiers bonding
1:08:40 great composition in smoke filled room
1:19:30 binocular shot
1:27:00 venetian window blinds effect
1:28:00 extended Mexican standoff scene (no wonder Tarantino loves this so much)
Use of close ups during Mexican standoff scene followed by slow zoom out is effective in showing a reducing of the tension until slow motion shootout around 1:32:10
1:43:54 disorienting camera movement following suicide, followed by effective shallow focus shot
1:45:10 great freeze frame to camera movement as color is sucked out of the shot becoming black and white photo
This was my 2nd viewing, the first was about 2 years ago and on a much smaller TV so I am not surprised that this viewing was more impressive for me, as the film makes use of 2.35 to 1 aspect ratio
This is an intelligent film that has an intriguing narrative mixing war with politics, and culture and uses a flashback structure to recreate the events of central to the investigation, there is an influence of Rashomon as well with the multiple interpretations of the events leading to the shootout
As an American with little knowledge about the history I was impressed the film was able to depict this North/South Korean conflict in a way that effectively conveyed the level of hate and distrust between the countries in a somewhat objective way. At the same time this is not merely an “issue movie” and does not over do the sentimentality
The performances area excellent all the way around including frequent Bong collaborator Song Kang-Ho
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
This one was tricky for note taking since I was unable to locate this film, so I settled on watching through a free site (the quality of these is often less than ideal but this one actually was great) but I could not see the time code while watching this film (I believe this is the first film in any of my studies where this happened) so my notes will not be as precise as normally
Ryu is the main character; he needs to raise money for his sister to have a kidney transplant
Ryu is deaf and has green hair making him really standout
Starts with a collage of images with narration
Extreme close ups during scene with doctor
Use of green from protagonist green hair to shots of green painted bathroom to shots with green tint including great high angle shot of interiors of a factory
Great Antonioni type shot with a physical barrier in middle of screen dividing two characters
Amazing doorway frame and silhouette with characters walking up stairs of a parking garage
Ryu’s girlfriend suggests a kidnapping to raise funds in a hilarious diatribe where she not only tries to justify a kidnapping for ransom money but even goes so far to suggest that it’s actually a noble and honorable thing to, she even states that her only concern is that the little girl who is kidnapped will like them so much she won’t want to go back to her real parents
Great inverted shot, 180 degrees shortly after the car crash
Great tracking shot down the escalator, earlier we saw a group of characters ascending up a level at parking garage
Ryu discovering his dead sister is heartbroken, in agony he cries loudly, the first time we’ve seen him show any emotion
Low angle shot of the great Song Kang-ho standing above his daughter who was discovered dead in body of water
Great overhead shot of Ryu burying his siter with rocks
In Funeral scene, a great filling the frame to the brim, then a minute later a shallow field shot with Song-Kang-ho in focus
Great shot of Kang in living room
Great pan in hallway to Ryu and girlfriend, followed by sex scene in which his girlfriend is hilariously using sign language throughout
Cross cutting between Ryu with girlfriend and Song Kang character who is making inquires to find out who is responsible for his daughter’s death
A number of quick zooms throughout
Tracking shots through narrow hallway as Ryu sneak attacks with baseball bat, there is a phenomenal, canted angle of Ryu dragging the bodies of the kidney traffickers in the warehouse
Beautiful overhead shot of Song-Kang character dragging Ryu through lake
Perhaps I should have, but I did see that ending coming as I thought it was a bluff, great close ups and blocking in frame when 4 guys show up to avenge a death
Even by revenge film standards this is extremely brutal, but it never feels exploitative or cheap in my opinion, I also don’t think Wook is trying to communicate some type of “message” to his audience even though I suppose you could say he’s showing the chain reaction of violence and vengeance
Great use of motifs; character going either up or down steps of stairs or escalators, helicopter shots of the city
Park Chan Wook goes with 2.35 to 1 aspect ratio and uses it to perfection
This film is full of beautiful shots, many of serene pond/lake
Unlike many other violent films, this was returns to the scene of some of the crimes, allowing the audience to absorb the horrific violence fully instead of just moving along to the next plot point
Unlike other revenge films there are long stretches of silence lingering on the characters who have lost loved ones, showing the full extent of devastation
Unlike most revenge films there are not any obvious “good guys” or “bad guys” here but rather a lot fo people doing really bad things, this films world is cold and brutal
I can’t really think of any obvious weaknesses as it has impressive visuals, character motivations, narrative, and pacing
Verdict: MS/MP (probably closer to MS than MP but still)
I think Decision to Leave is my choice for the best of 2022 so far. Great in every regard and really sticks with you.
@Harry – I am very excited, just watched Sympathy for Mr. Vengaence for the 1st time today and was very impressed. I am doing a full on Park Chan Wook study so I have Old Boy coming up next.
Where did you see Decision to Leave if you don’t mind me asking? I know it’s suppose to come to MUBI in mid-October.
@James – I saw it as part of a film festival that hits my city, only one showing so didn’t have much choice but so glad to catch it on the big screen.
Park Chan Wook grades so far
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance – MP
Oldboy – MS
Decision to Leave – MS
The Handmaiden – HR
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance – HR
Thirst – R
@Harry – that’s awesome, I need to go to a film festival myself at some point. I have 9 films to watch for the Study in this order (I have seen a number of them previously):
Joint Security Area, HR
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, MS/MP
Old Boy, next film to watch
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK
Decision to Leave
Old Boy (2003)
Starts with stunning low angle shot of film’s protagonist, whose face is shadowed, grabbing man on top of building right before a flashback
Ace South Korean actor Choi Min-sik plays our mysterious protagonist, Oh Dae-su
6:20 Dae-su discovers he has been kidnapped and placed in a hotel like room which becomes a prison, he has non idea who or why is behind this, and worse later discovers his wife and daughter have been murdered and he is presumed perpetrator of this crime
7:44 use of hair to indicate a great amount of time has past
9:55 surrealism as Dae-su has mental breakdown while camera spins 360 around room
11:49 high angles resembling security camera
Close up shots and zooms create claustrophobic environment
14:30 brilliant use of split screen showing Dae-su going about his routine and a tv depicting important world events over 15 years, Dae-su’s life is frozen in time
18 min mark Dae-su is out of room
20:20 return to film’s opening shot
23:26 slow motion fight scene
24:40 “I want to eat a living thing” is Dae-su’s first request after getting out and going to a seafood restaurant leading to a famous squid scene
26 min Dae-su gets call from man behind his imprisonment “I am sort of a scholar and my field of study is you”
27:40 squid scene
36:20 food montage, Dae-su adjusting to life with female chef, at least 20 years younger than him, who served him a live squid helping him out
39 min canted angle of street
40:57 “client confidentiality is our highest priority” hilarious
41:40 close up of Dae-su removing the teeth of the head of security who works at the hotel where Dae-su was imprisoned
43 min famous hallway fight scene all done in one take, amazing work
47 min we finally get a look at the mysterious kidnapper briefly
51:25 nice camera movement capturing the villains lair
56:10 villain gives Dae-su a chance to kill him and get away with it but Dae-su won’t find out why he was imprisoned
64 min intense sex scene, like the violence it is far more explicit than you see in almost any American movies but like the violence does not feel exploitative
1:05:48 surrealism nightmare looking sequence
1:07:52 great blocking with closeup on 3 faces
1:14:10 reverse tracking shot down hallway
1:17:30 nice, inverted shot during flashback scene with Dae-su in High School
1:20:10 great editing back and forth with the current Dae-su and flashback version at the High School
1:29:50 great pan of Villain’s secret Lair
1:30:50 brilliant composition using mirror
1:32:58 a split diopter shot that would make DePalma proud
1:37:00 family picture book used to explain plot, very disturbing stuff indeed
1:39:24 brilliant use of spacing in frame
Dae-su learns the truth and his begging inspires Villain
1:47:20 Villain admits he has nothing to live for once he has enacted his revenge
1:52:20 startling image of Dae-su sitting outside in winter atmosphere, a near broken man
1:55:22 overhead shot in snow
1:57:10 grin on Dae-su’s face is perfect ending, he is beaten badly but perseveres
I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure this is the 1st South Korean film I ever watched; I was blown away after my first viewing and subsequent viewings have only reinforced my admiration
The opening 20 min are like a mini movie within the movie, it is well worth it to establish the main character’s state of mind upon his release into the world
The villain here is perfect, appropriately way over the top and charismatic, would you want it any other way for a film like this?
You eventually learn the villain’s motives but there is a MacGuffin quality to it, by the time we learn it the specifics aren’t really all that important other than amplifying the villains hatred
I love Wook’s consistent use of zoom in and zoom outs
Just like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, this is not a “message” movie, but it does show futility and short comings of revenge, even the films Villain recognizes this which is why he kills himself shortly after he has accomplished his goal
The pacing is perfect, narrative moves along without unnecessary scenes, obviously the plot is quite ridiculous at times and requires you to suspend reasoning and logic, but I have to imagine people know this going into a Park Chan Wook film, if you want under stated, less over the top stories, this is not your guy
Very funny at times, not so much laugh out loud but more just the absurdity of many of the situations
Hollywood uses sex and violence regularly but not in the same way that Wook does, his is utterly intense but in a way that does not feel exploitative, I love this from Roger Ebert’s 4-star review “Old boy” is a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare.”
Perfect quote from Ebert and he is correct it’s the emotional twist of the knife that is most impactful to the film’s characters far more than any physical violence can accomplish
Verdict: MP (and a huge one at that I have it #39 on my top 100 list)
@James – have you ever seen the Spike Lee remake?
@Harry – sorry, just noticed this comment now, I have seen the first 20 min or so although I cannot remember exactly when I watched it or why I didn’t see the entire film. I rarely turn a film off 20 min or so into it unless it REALLY is not working, but there are other reasons perhaps it was late and I was tired, etc.
I normally won’t write off a film without watching it but admittingly I am quite skeptical about Spike Lee’s version. Aside from the fact that I view Park Chan Wook’s version to be a huge MP I am not sure any American director outside of Quentin Tarantino can really make something like this. I certainly respect much of Spike Lee’s work but Park Chan Wook’s style is really difficult to “Americanize” in my opinion. By all means let me know what you think if you ever get around to watching it.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance R
Lady Vengeance R
The Handmaiden MS
Lady Vengeance (2005)
Again I must mention my note taking was challenging since I was unable to locate this film other than free site of which I could not see the time code while watching this film, also the quality was decent but not great (a bit of a beggars can’t be choosers situation)
Starts with Santa Claus dressed group of women outside prison awaiting release of Lee Geum-ja who just finished 13-year sentence for murder, symbolic tofu is offered
Active camera in flashback scene
Frequent overhead shots
Shakey handheld camera in flash backs
Rapid pans and zoom outs I haven’t noticed this in other Wook films
Nice close up and profile shots during bakery scenes
Camera moves off of Geum-ja when recounting her “kidnapping story”
42:16 inverted shot of car pulling into the field
51:30, the great South Korean actor Choi Min-sik makes his 1st appearance, shortly followed by intense sex scene, this is shortly followed by an extreme close-up shot in flash back to the women’s prison
58:14 nice composition inside classroom with bright green and saturated red, this is notable given much of the film thus far has used a more muted color palette
1:06:10 a series of effective split screen shots, showing a letter being written/letter being read
Series of close-up shots explaining the Choi Min-sik character who turns out to be a murderous psychopath
Strong use of close ups in accentuating the emotions of Geum who was tied up Min-sik in a basement
Heart breaking scene with all the families of the victims gathered in basement
Moral dilemma for families who are given a choice between turning serial killer over to police or killing him themselves
“he was saving the money to buy a yacht”
1:28:32 tremendous tracking shot of the wires which allows Min-sik (who is tied up) to hear the families discuss their plan for killing him
Great overhead shot of families leaving to bury the killer
Bookend with cake
You have to hand it to Park Chan Wook, he is one creative dude; unlike say the Death Wish franchise all 3 films in Wook’s “Revenge Trilogy” have a unique take on revenge
The final chapter of the “revenge trilogy” and probably the weakest of the 3 although that has more to do with the quality of the first 2 films more so than any shortcomings here, however it fits right into the trilogy
Like the other 2 films in the trilogy the pacing is a strength as Wook takes his time building the narrative without losing audience attention
Starts in hospital with blue tint background
Song Kang-ho again, this guy is making a really strong case for top 10-15 actor of the 21st century in my book, here he plays Sang-hyun, a Catholic Priest
4:28 great composition in Church confessional booth with a frame into confessional on far-right side of screen
11 min Sang plays flute then starts coughing up blood
11:30 great POV shots from inside hospital using same blue tint
23:40 montage of rapidly edited shots, blue and red seem important colors so far
25:54 gorgeous skyline shot magic hour
29:45 great overhead shot outside apartment at night
36:22 priest gives in to sexual passion
38 min close ups during sex creates claustrophobic feeling
44 min there a sadness to Sang-hyun that reminds me of Bresson/Schrader
49 min Wook is known for crazy violence in his films, but the sex scenes are equally intense and far more raw than in most Hollywood films
57:55 surrealism jumping off buildings at night
1:02:08 after renouncing priesthood, he walks downstairs into literal darkness
1:05:42 great dissolve edits to great shot of landscape at night
1:12:44 Wook doesn’t shy away from disturbing images
1:17:46 another hospital bed shot from POV of patient
1:25:00 priest showing signs of slowing down
1:34:25 great tracking shot through hallway
1:37:35 death by shock
1:39:07 great use of uneven landscape or canted angle
1:44:42 great composition followed by intense violence
1:48:02 camera 360 degrees capturing everyone at table followed by zoom out
1:52:25 hallway shot
I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never fully understood the pop culture obsession with vampire themed shows and movies but there are some undeniably great vampire films, particular the original 1922 Nosferatu and Herzog’s 1979 version which was a huge surprise for me when I did my Herzog study
While no one would confuse his films for realism this is the 1st film of his that goes full blown surrealism, it’s also his first Horror film
There are some great close-up shots on faces of characters and zoom in and zoom outs, very active camera though
Dedication to color, particularly blue is impressive
Even if this film doesn’t work at all times, the combination of surrealism, constant camera movements, as well as unusual angles and disorienting editing techniques makes this worthy film to watch at least once
Similar to other Park Chan Wook films it is a genre blend with humor, violence, and sex
How is your Park Chan Wook study going?
@James Trapp- Great- enjoying the study, thank you for the updates on your progress here. Thirst is next for me. I am not going to do The Little Drummer Girl again at this time- so just Thirst, Stoker and The Handmaiden… until Decision to Leave of course.
@Drake – good to hear, I am nearing the end myself with just 2 left; The Handmaiden and then Decision to Leave which is scheduled to hit MUBI October 14 I believe. Then on to Dario Argento.
I think it will be interesting to see how Park Chan-wook stacks up to Bong Joon-ho.
@James Trapp- I’m excited to get back to The Handmaiden. I just finished Thirst and after this and I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK this is certainly a lower point or uneven stretch in his career.
Yeah, it’s all good made an evening out of it met up with sister. Loved the film, much harder posting thoughts when watching it in theatre as opposed to taking notes with computer but nice change up. I’ll do a thorough review at some point in future but for now I’ll say:
The 1st hour was a felt more like a traditional Hong Kong action film than a Park Chan-wook film not an insult or criticism but description although it was a little silly at times. The 2nd half was something altogether different as it turns into a complex noir like mystery. I read that Park decided he wanted to be a director after watching Vertigo. It’s definitely a heavy influence. Chinese actress Tang Wei gives a classic femme fatale performance with Park Hae-il playing the standard noir detective role. The film is layered with convoluted narrative and I’d be lying if I said I followed everything.
There are incredible visuals with mountaintops and other elevated locations playing a key role through the story.
I read that Park wanted to appeal to a wider audience so he toned down the violence and sex scenes significant, they still exist but nowhere near the same intensity. The humor is a little silly at times like I said but I don’t think it is a huge problem overall as you still have a lot of the same great traits from complex narrative and compelling characters.
Overall even without a 2nd viewing I can say that it won’t reach the heights of Old Boy (2003) but not much does for me. Tentative but for now I’d say HR/MS leaning with MS
@James Trapp- Great work here- appreciate you sharing this.
An English language film for Wook, his first
1:05 starts with Terence Malick-esque voice over with Mia Wasikowska playing main character, India, an introverted teenager living with her mother, played by Nicole Kidman
2 min dissolve edit moves the story back in time
Funeral for India’s father, a mysterious man watching from a distance turns out to be India’s Uncle Charlie who she knows nothing about
16:20 India has tough relationship with mother
“what kind of family is family that never comes home?”
37 min parallel editing of 3 scenes including India eating ice cream cone in basement and then discovering human head in freezer and Charlie confronting Aunt in phone booth, both scenes use blue tint
44 min disorienting piano scene with India and Charlie playing sitting next to each other with disturbing sexual tension that appears to have been imagined by India
58:08 great low angle shot of India and Charlie standing over fresh grave
Masterful editing in shower scene which alternates between that and India committing her first murder
1:08:50 another staircase conversation only with India at top and Charlie at bottom
Nice pans and camera movements in Charlie’s recounting of his late brother
1:18:44 slow zoom out from India speaking with sheriff who is inquiring about Whip who is missing
1:22:00 Nicole Kidman character jealous of India when Charlie gives attention
1:26:50 great use of doorway frame
Great ending with India settling issues with violence, first Charlie and then the Sheriff
Obvious connection to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt
Characters are frequently speaking to one another on uneven planes, for example one character near top of stairs and other near bottom; stairs were a reoccurring motif in many Hitchcock films
While there is the Uncle Charlies connection, the relationship between Charlies and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt is quite different
While this film can’t match the ambition of most of his other work, it has great suspense and
Of course it really wouldn’t be a Park Chan Wook film without intense violence and/or highly charged sex scenes, while associating violence and sex isn’t exactly a novel concept, few mix these dark impulses better than Wook
The Handmaiden (2016)
2:42 transition from gloomy blue/gray to beautiful shot of car driving on elevated road near water
5:20 eerie score sets film’s mood
8 min we learn about the background of Nam Sook-hee and her con artist upbringing
9 min effective zoom upon the Ha Jung-woo character, Count Fujiwara, entering the room and relaying his devious plan for conning a wealthy family; “each night in bed I think of her assets” quite the romantic
12:12 great composition with a close up shot on the face of the film’s villain Count Fujiwara and the other characters in the background
13:42 intense stare between Kim Tae-ri as “Sook-Hee” also know as “The Maid” and Kim Min-Hee as “Lady Hideko”
20:34 serene setting
20:55 great zoom in across the hallway into the secret room
23:22 close ups on the two women as their mutual sexual attraction almost gives in
26:34 frame within a frame Ozu style
Love triangle impending
32:50 Wook uses slow zoom outs regularly
38:48 nice composition with stairs in background
40:12 tension brimming with shot of exteriors of mansion with all the lights flickering
42 min overhead shot with The Maiden and Lady Hideko sharing a bed staring in outside directions
53:23 gorgeous shot of lake
1:01:30 brilliant misdirection in plot
1:03:15 beginning of part 2 of the 3 parts
1:07:05 disturbing background of Lady Hideko’s Uncle Kouzuki, who is a sexual pervert and all-around scumbag
1:10:45 amazing symmetry and mise-en-scene in this shot
1:15:10 great composition and blocking in shot of men gathered in the Library where Uncle Kouzuki conducts his depraved reading sessions
1:21:00 Count Fujiwara has a comedically high opinion of himself
Much of Part 2 takes place in the library which is usually quite dark and has a film noir atmosphere at times
1:33:52 intricate layers of plot
1:40:50 intense sex scene
1:44:24 at end of intense sex scene in dark there is a transition to the women painting in room the next day with very Victorian atmosphere
1:51:51 great overhead shot as The Maid destroys library upon discovering its sordid purpose
1:54:20 Part 3 begins
Interesting how much of the twists are revealed in part 2 rather than part 3
2:08:00 a deserving fate for Count Fujiwara
2:14:06 painterly beautiful image of Lady Hideko and Sook-hee on the boat with sky at sunset, this is quickly juxtaposed with the green/blue tinted shot of library
A marriage of great images and enthralling story telling
As with his other work the merging of sex and violence is a key trait amongst Wook films, and this is no different
The sex scenes here don’t feel exploitative but rather a reflection of repressed emotions/sexual desires
While I still believe Old Boy (2003) to be his best work, this might be Park Chan Wook’s best screenplay, it really is brilliant as a drama and slow burn thriller with elements of an erotic thriller, there are multiple plots reveals and double crosses, but it never feels cheap or unearned
A lot of slow zoom outs and camera movement throughout
This might be Wook’s best use of mise-en-scene and use of lighting
I am not sure there is much if anything I would change this is masterful film making all the way through
Fed up with waiting for MUBI to stream, going into NYC to watch Decision to Leave
@James Trapp- Good for you! Send up a flare when you do.
Final Ranking and Grades:
Old Boy (2003)
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
Decision to Leave (2022)
Lady Vengeance (2005)
Joint Security Area (2000)
I covered 8 of his 11 feature films as I started with Joint Security Area (2000) which was actually his 3rd film but is considered to be his true coming out party. I also did not watch I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006) as I could not track it down. However, the 3 left out appear to be his 3 weakest films according to a couple of lists so I am fine ending the study here.
Like his compatriot, Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook specializes in seamless genre blending and with terrific black comedy.
Park is masterful with the camera which are extremely active in his films almost Scorsese like. He uses slow zoom outs effectively and this works on two levels; visually of course but it also is fitting in how his films often contain complex plots or narrative structure in which the audience knows just as little as many of the films characters, in Old Boy (2003) for example we (audience) know just as little Oh Dae-su regarding who abducted him for 15 year and what was the motivation. Joint Security Area (2000) uses a sort of Rashomon structure with the retelling of events through multiple perspectives. Decision to Leave (2022) might be the most complex of all although I’ve only seen it once and that was in theatre and without being able to take notes.
Park Chan-wook uses violence and sex in such a raw manner but it does not feel exploitative, that’s my opinion anyway, some may disagree. I don’t know whether or not Park is trying to make any particular points, statements, messages, etc. in his films (and don’t care all that much) but he does seem to focus on characters put through emotionally gut-wrenching emotions. His characters generally seem driven by human primal instincts rather than reason or rationality. I think Ebert hits in on the head with this quote from his review of Old Boy (2003)
“content does not make a movie good or bad — it is merely what it is about. “Oldboy” is a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare.”
Overall very impressive work, even the weakest film which in my opinion was Stoker (2013) still had much to admire
While the pace of his films has slowed down with 6 years between The Handmaiden (2016) and Decision to Leave (2022) Park is 59 years old and the quality of his last 2 films makes me optimistic about his ability to potentially make another MP or near MP. I think most of his films benefit from multiple viewings and am very excited to revisit Decision to Leave whenever it becomes available to stream I will do a more in depth study.
@James Trapp- Great work here- I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK is in the archives now- but it is not essential viewing by any means.
@Drake – thanks, yeah I didn’t think it was worth holding up the study for Cyborg and at this point don’t have much desire to view. I certainly look forward to Decision to Leave viewing #2 though. In the meantime I am planning on either a Dario Argento or Bong Joon-ho study.
@James Trapp- I sort of feel the same way about Stoker (which I watched last night- second time on this film) and Cyborg if that helps you gauge what you’re missing. Very nice- can’t go wrong with Argento or Bong. I think for me, after The Handmaiden, I’m moving on to a quick Charlie Kaufman study before deciding on what’s next.
@Drake – I was actually thinking of David Lynch as well but recently saw (link below) that Inland Empires is getting restored by Criterion in the near future so I’ll try to time it with that. In the meantime will start with a Bong study I’ve decided.
Nice, the only Kaufman film I’ve seen is his most recent, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which was quite fascinating albeit confusing, definitely will need a 2nd viewing but very impressive
Well, here goes.
So Drake, a couple months ago in September I finally got around to Oldboy – which annoyed me that it wasn’t a year before when I made it 83 minutes into the film when it suddenly started buffering incessantly to the point where I couldn’t go any further; at least it had the kindness to do so quite literally minutes if not even seconds before the plot twist – and I was definitely impressed with the film to a great extent. I had decided to go on a Park (people often forget that these directors’ family names are actually Park, Hou, Zhang or Bong instead of Wook, Hsien, Yimou or Ho because they’re not reversed in order like most Japanese directors’ names I guess) bender a few days earlier when, after sort of running out of my assigned films-to-watch plan I went for The Handmaiden on a whim and was impressed too, and will talk about that later. There’s really so much I can say about Oldboy and its absolute brilliance, and the main reason I’m not going to right now is because it’s been 2 months now since I’ve seen it, I have an exam tomorrow as of writing this (which I have prepared for mind you), this isn’t even the first draft of this post that I started writing in a much longer form like a month ago before abandoning it because I was too busy, and other reasons probably I can’t come up with.
So far I’ve seen Oldboy one time, since I’m not really counting the botched first attempt (which killed what could have been a Park retrospective a year early as I had just seen Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance days before) and I might be inclined to say that’s not enough for a film that makes the narrative moves it does. But there is one thing that I really came here to say and that is that I’m not ready after the first viewing to call it a Masterpiece, and I really hope that changes because I’ve thought through both viewings of it (the first one last August and the second one this September) that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was one and I see now that you think it is too; I had asked you about that originally when it topped Talk to Her on the 2002 Top 10 which first gave me the suspicions you were changing your mind. Now, the problem here is that I was quite absolutely ready to call it a Masterpiece and a damn big one too with the wild artistic moves Park was making throughout the whole film with constant standout sequences like the time bending as Choi returns to his old school and rediscovers his past, the hallway fight which needs no introduction, the decision to (leave) begin in medias res with Choi badassly holding the guy off the ledge with the tie, the constant use of red and green (connecting this to Vertigo) in the production design throughout the film particularly in the hotel wallpapers, the 15-year luxury butler-served penthouse and the restaurant where Choi and Kang meet and Park’s constant use of angles and wide angle lens are so powerfully contribute to the impact of the film’s sheer aggression. Formally, there’s just such great work from Park as well obviously with the plot twist that I won’t speak about, the second plot twist not long afterward that is somewhat the flip of the first, the two parallel revenges with the successful revenge wrapping itself up by turning the failed revenge on its head… it was not merely on its way but had arrived and had a long vacation (which is rare for most films I see nowadays; as I’ve seen nearly all the films that will ever enter my top 100, most new films I see that are Masterpieces only make it there very close to or at the end) at the Masterpiece level when Park just made this decision that I couldn’t wrap my head around at the time and still really can’t for the most part to really slow things down to a careening halt in the final scene with the hypnotist clearing Choi’s mind. The film is like a bullet train for the whole runtime with this colossal towering wave of momentum Park picks up along the way perfectly culminating in the final confrontation between Choi and Yoo that Park just lets evaporate when he slows down so much for the final scene instead of allowing it to just combust in our faces by ending right after like the bridge-elevator dual suicides or something as Choi has been reduced to a wallowing, tongueless dog like he said or whatever. There are some elements I like about the ending scene like that ear-to-ear smile on Choi’s face as he realizes he genuinely cannot remember what he went to see the hypnotist for in the first place and as he’s embraced by his love Kang that then devolves into that harsh, emotionally-crushed expression as it seems it may not have worked, and really he knows exactly why he went there and that the attempt to forget failed, but I mean after one viewing I really felt like it was just Park throwing away the key to a second, much greater Masterpiece for no apparent reason, and I’d really like to be convinced I’m wrong about that.
And I mention that I’ve seen other Park films because I have them to compare to. Specifically or at least first easily Park’s second-most acclaimed work, The Handmaiden. I’m going to refrain from speaking too long on it as like I said, I’m busy and I’ve already said so much about Oldboy above but The Handmaiden is, narratively, the most avant-garde thing Park has ever done with the three-part structure that has rock-hard turns at top MPH that I wasn’t even sure if they were real at first with how much the film delves into the topic of insanity and asylums and honestly I’d say yes, it does absolutely have the narrative strength to make a Masterpiece – I remember early in my review a few minutes before the first twist I wrote that I simply could not see the path with what Park had shown me so far in the mise en scene to make a Masterpiece and all I had to do was wait a few minutes and he’d throw that path in my face – but again, like Oldboy, I’m not ready after one viewing but certainly open to move it up and honestly whenever I think about it I wonder why I haven’t, like I’m really grasping for a great reason for me not to push it up this second but I digress, I don’t really for one reason and that’s because of what I felt was some poor form from Park towards the end that really bugged me on this first viewing and I’m hoping doesn’t on the second, which is that long stretch of time Park dedicates to the torture sequence between Ha and Cho after the two women escape their grasp. It’s like what, 10 minutes long? And the problem I have with it has nothing to do with its content, it’s not like it was some massive tonal shift in a movie by Park Chan-wook to have an extremely bloody, punishing torture scene but my problem with it is that it’s a 10 minute segue from the two actual important characters at this point in the film as they have achieved their victory and are long out of these two men’s hairs by now over to these two other characters who have been duped and left for basically and it’s no longer the concern of the women what happens to them and it’s 10 minutes of throwaway AND it’s 10 minutes of throwaway that honestly fucking drags and that’s something I don’t ever say because I always see it as ignorant and dismissive of whatever a director is trying to achieve and it almost always comes out of the mouths of, for lack of a better word, the plebeians, but this isn’t Dreyer, Weerasethakul or Tarkovsky, this is an active, fast-moving genre film by Park Chan-wook and I’m going to say it here (their slow scenes also, you know, have a tendency not to be throwaway… but that’s something else) and that that scene, really, is what moves this one down from being a second/third/whatever Masterpiece for Park once again. I don’t mind Park doing the scene where Ha gets arrested in the hotel room and then like the aerial shot over the car driving down the road to the estate (which Park sticks to many times in the film formally) and wish he had maybe just cut this prologue to the torture scene (which is not even part of the 10 minutes) right there maybe with a suggestion that that is going to be what happens to Ha after the arrest but not actually wasting time showing it to us itself, since like I said, I really just can’t see why Park even included it in the first place, and again I’d like to see myself proven wrong on a second viewing. Lastly, and this is not a complaint about the sex or the nature of the sex which isn’t something I really care about, but I didn’t think the ending was enough of a knockout to overcome this flaw; I mean compare it to a similarly-flawed film I’ve seen recently that you probably all hate me by now for what I’ve said about it, Inglourious Basterds which also has a throwaway scene that terribly breaks form to provide information that is utterly useless to us (if it was just one or the other, I wouldn’t be happy with it but I wouldn’t be that bothered but since it’s both that is just really bad from Tarantino), this film’s ending isn’t quite the “Masterpiece” line with the formal return of the trunk shot and the forehead swastika carving though it’s not an ending I hate, I did like it and thought the symmetrical frame composition itself was quite strong, I’m just comparing it to another film ending I have much to say about while for this film’s I had quite little.
Ugh… damn. Yeah that’s a lot to read and I can’t say it’s over. So… the other Park films I’ve seen that don’t get the unanimous truckloads of praise these two do just don’t really have scenes that take the film as a whole down for me. Mr. Vengeance doesn’t slow down at all and it has an ending with that anarchist collective coming down the street, shoving that knife straight through Song’s heart and driving off as if they were never there that still just leaves my mouth agape when I think about it, Lady Vengeance (despite the flaws it has too with the terrible freeze-frames and onscreen text that tell us the names and prison terms of the women Lee did her time with, with said text not factoring into the events of the film whatsoever making us question why Park included the freeze frames at all) with the culmination of Lee’s efforts to reconnect with her daughter as her daughter shows her how much she really loves her and she dumps her head in the cake (one formal win the film does have is the slow transition visually to black-and-white as it gets progressively more so morally… though it does take some time for the film to start on it as it is), and with Decision to Leave… actually I’m not going to talk about this one since I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not. But I was impressed with a lot of what Park did even if it takes a great deal of time for the narrative to really be what Park wants it to be. I’d really like to see that one again actually before I can truly give it a final verdict as I think a fair bit of it didn’t really land for me but I felt the last hour was much stronger than the previous almost-90 minutes, not to mention I was watching in an impressively-if-not-completely filled theater so I wasn’t taking notes to draw from on it. Lastly, there’s Joint Security Area, which is just bizarre to me in terms of really being two films, one a highly respectable top-of-the-line film with a genuinely successful exploration of brotherhood and how it can fall apart and the other film just being kind of this insipid dead weight attached (except for a few scenes that were admittedly quite good) to the first film that I don’t even know if I’d archive if it was separated from it. I’m excited of course to see it again sometime but I can’t remember the last time I watched a film that has the ups and downs this one has.
Overall, here’s where I’d rate Park’s filmography after one run through these films outside of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance of course which I’ve seen twice now:
1. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – MP
2. Lady Vengeance – MS
3. Oldboy – HR/MS
4. The Handmaiden – HR/MS
5. Decision to Leave – HR/MS (it’s probably really one or the other but maybe leaning MS for now)
6. Joint Security Area – R/HR
And I guess a few other recent retrospectives I’ve done some of which are months old dating back to August:
1. Last Year at Marienbad – MP
2. Providence – MP
3. Mon Oncle d’Amerique – MP
4. Hiroshima Mon Amour – MP
5. Night and Fog – MS
6. Wild Grass – MS
7. Smoking/No Smoking – HR/MS
8. Stavisky… – HR
9. Melo – HR
10. Private Fears in Public Places – R/HR
I gave a few others a shot… so Muriel I do agree probably seems archivable due mainly to how artistically consistent it is but there was very little in the 20 minutes I watched that made me think you were wrong about calling it a Recommend, I gave The War is Over 40 minutes before deciding in spite of some really nice scenes with Montand catcfhing up with his old revolutionary buddies that it was probably just a Recommend too but I’d be willing to give it another chance, Je t’aime, je t’aime I was probably really unfair too and didn’t give it like a chance at all, like I barely watched any of it before shutting it off, and Love Unto Death really just scratched me in the 25 minutes I saw as coming from like a really terrible throwout of a bad early draft of a Bergman film from the Winter Light era… it just meant nothing to me. I saw all of these in August except for Wild Grass which I saw in October and was really blown away by and I’m thinking of going back and watching a few like Same Old Song and You’ve Seen Nothin’ Yet I haven’t looked at yet but we’ll have to wait and see first.
1. A Very Long Engagement – MS (feels like I can go higher?)
2. Amelie – MS
3. The City of Lost Children – MS
4. Delicatessen – MS
1. Hero – MP (I can trade with #2 but this one is what I’m feeling right now)
2. Raise the Red Lantern – MP
3. House of Flying Daggers – MS
4. Ju Dou – HR/MS to MS
5. To Live – HR/MS
6. Red Sorghum – HR to HR/MS
7. Curse of the Golden Flower – HR
8. The Story of Qiu Ju – R/HR
And that’s all for now despite the temptation of Shadow, Keep Cool and Shanghai Triad to keep me wondering for the future; maybe in December.
1. Mysteries of Lisbon – MP
2. Three Crowns of the Sailor – MS
3. City of Pirates – MS
Mysteries of Lisbon may not be my #1 film of all-time, but it could be my single favorite… it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film for the first time I liked on a personal level as much as I enjoyed Mysteries of Lisbon. Still got more to go here but I don’t know why I’m putting City of Pirates at #3 instead of #2 and like a Masterpiece or something but I probably should.
1. Nashville – MP
2. McCabe and Mrs. Miller – MP
3. The Long Goodbye – MP
4. M*A*S*H – MP
5. Short Cuts – MP
6. Gosford Park – MS/MP
7. 3 Women – HR/MS but definitely thinking of bumping higher right this moment
8. The Player – HR/MS
All of these I saw for the first time just in these past few weeks outside of The Long Goodbye which I caught in February. Gosford Park at MS/MP is probably overcorrection for how virtually comatose I was watching that movie (it was late and I just finished Short Cuts’ three hours) because of like the jolting shock of all the formal unraveling it undergoes at the very end but still, I mean the intelligent screenwriting like Watson expressing her love of American films and Balaban talking over the phone about how he’s looking for an actress to play an English maid in his new film and them connecting on that level toward the end are what carries it higher for me. Also, I just have to say that McCabe and Mrs. Miller deserves a very nice spot closer to #100 than #200 all-time. I’m not even convinced it isn’t his best.
@Zane- Great work here- you’ve been busy! love that you sought out and watched Ruiz and Three Crowns of the Sailor
@Zane – nice to see you posting, I just completed a Park Study so I have a few thoughts I’ll get to. First though I just want to say regarding Altman I love seeing the MP for The Long Goodbye and agree that McCabe and Mrs. Miller is closer to top 100 than 200. I actually have both The Long Goodbye and McCabe in my top 100. I realize that as I continue to watch more great films they may be lowered but for now I think they both belong. Nashville is amazing as well although I am not as high on it as Drake or you but definitely its a MP. Hopefully I can get an Altman Study in at some point but for now
Altman top 5
1. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
2. The Long Goodbye
4. Gosford Park
5. The Player
Old Boy is a giant MP for me, but I don’t entirely disagree with your thoughts regarding the ending and the way it halts the story down in a way that seems unnecessary. I do wish Park had managed to find a way to end it that did not involve a hypnotist or any new characters. But I like the ambiguous look Dae-su has on his face.I think a fair question to ask is how much should an ending impact a films overall grade?
“Now, the problem here is that I was quite absolutely ready to call it a Masterpiece and a damn big one too with the wild artistic moves Park was making throughout the whole film with constant standout sequences…”
Correct me if I am wrong but it seems like you were ready to call it a “damn big MP”. Should a weak ending downgrade it to the point of it no longer even being a MP?
Of course I think it should also be pointed out that there is not an exact rubric for the site’s grading system that I am aware of although anyone feel free to correct me if I am wrong. The people who have become frequent users/posters of this site have adopted Drake’s grading system [MP, MS, HR, R] for the same reason any group of people/subculture adopt a common language or lingo; to communicate with each other more effectively about a shared interest, in this case it is our shared love of cinema.
There are films with weak endings that are MP. One film that comes to mind that I have watched recently is Howard Hawk’s Red River (1948) a damn near perfect film with a terrible ending although to be fair its not what Howard Hawks wanted but unfortunately, he was overpowered by the studio. Psycho (1960) is my # 8 all time film and # 22 on TSPDT. Many people fairly criticize the doctor overly explaining Norman Bates, but should that really impact its all-time ranking that much given that everything else is basically perfect? Orson Welles famously hated what the studio did to the Magnificent Ambersens especially the ending, yet even so it’s still one of the most highly acclaimed films of all time at # 78 on TSPDT and # 31 on this site.
I am not saying a bad ending should not impact the overall grade, it is just a matter of degrees for me. An otherwise huge MP with a weak ending I would still think of as a MP. To move a films grade down significantly, the ending would have to be more than just not great but terrible in that it significantly changes or impacts everything that came before it. The worst you can really say about the ending of Old Boy is that it is anticlimactic since it brings the narrative to a halt. But even if you don’t like it I think it would be hard to argue that it significantly impacts everything that came before it.
Ok, so, here we go. I don’t really know entirely why these posts are so sporadic and lengthy, maybe it’s just some weird tendency towards a preference for that or what, but I have found that it can be erratic and opaque and there’s very little elaboration from me when I don’t respond to anything and I’m not pleased with that. When I posted the original Oldboy drop, I planned to respond soon but was taken up by the same exams I had been putting off to write that, and couldn’t do so immediately, and after that I had time to write some more stuff I wanted to talk about, wasn’t able to finish that and so didn’t post anything then either. I then had final exams and was free, and for the last several weeks I put off finishing it ever further due to other matters that were going on, including just plain not wanting to touch it, until I finally managed to finish that Casanova piece, which I just wanted to be the centerpiece of a few more things that are just not worth completing (look at how long the Casanova one panned out to be), as I found there to be little point as while the Casanova one was supposed to be arguing a point that it should be much higher, the other pieces I was going to write about, save for one on Providence which is a film that deserves a thousand essays that it has never had, were only going to be mere celebrations of the films instead that amounted to virtually nothing. Another problem was that the structure of the text simply wasn’t determined for the longest time, certainly my efforts to complete it in November were rather uninspired and it was only recently that I determined what the paragraphs would focus on; the text flew out of my mind from that point forward but again for the longest time I couldn’t come up with anything, and I didn’t care to post anything else until I could. And again, after I dropped that a couple days of nothing that turned into a few weeks as I didn’t follow up on the Casanova drop right away either which I’m sure have appeared strange as well but now here I am. I can’t say whether I will be more regular and ordered with everything, as things can get very busy for me these days, but here goes.
There’s a few things I’d still like to change from the above. For Zhang Yimou, I’ll move Raise the Red Lantern to his best film right now, I really need to revamp the all-time list (haven’t in over a year) and hope to do so soon and then I will have the definitive marker of which film is superior but I do genuinely think the 1991 film is his strongest right now, I don’t know, I feel with Hero that was more a spur of the moment thing as strong as that is. For Altman, move Short Cuts down to MS (also just decided on a coin flip basically) while keeping Gosford Park where it is and for Park Chan-wook I’ll through Decision to Leave to a HR, I don’t know what was going on with what I had for it before because I really thought it was either a HR or a MS, not on the border, I need to watch it again pretty badly to make a definitive grade after a troubled theater viewing (though I’ve had a few better ones more recently like Babylon and Avatar; I feel very strong about my feelings of Avatar from the theater and alright-ish about Babylon though not without doubts). And lastly, for Resnais, I’ll take Night and Fog out of the list (I just think narrative features and documentaries aren’t that comparable and should be regarded separately though there are some films like F for Fake where it’s harder to say really… still though, Night and Fog’s Technicolor (!!!) sequences are nearly as strong as anything he throws on screen in Marienbad, don’t care what anyone says!) and throw in Same Old song as a MS underneath Wild Grass and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet as a R/HR (maybe leaning R with this bad clip art-looking newspaper on screen at the end) and dead last, outside of the top 10 as genuinely strong of a film as it is. Back to Zhang, House of Flying Daggers… this could change with the future all-time rankings update I have to make but I think I’m going to push it to a Masterpiece. So, those are the changes I have to make.
But, there’s still some things about the text above that I’d like to address as well. So particularly about the ending of The Handmaiden (still a film I can’t claim to be done with after one viewing) I just felt like the point I was trying to make was rather muddled and got lost in the mix of words especially regarding what the content of the film’s ending entails, which is not what I was referring to. So, you notice that Masterpiece level films tend to have endings that leave you with everlasting imagery that also presents a disarming formal accomplishment: that’s Nosferatu’s final shot of the destroyed castle, that’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’s (ok not MP but reaaaaally close and I’m not even certain I shouldn’t just move it up there) John Neville disappearing into the background, that’s The Lady Eve with the door at the end, or Songs from the Second Floor with the sort of zombie invasion of the foreground in the final shot, to pick from a few top level films I’ve seen in the last several months. The Handmaiden’s ending lacks the traits that these masterful stronger films’ endings have; I don’t know, I guess I’d say it just doesn’t possess that same sort of shockwave to leave the viewer in disarray after the credits start to roll. That’s not to say there’s no sort of collection of shattering formal reveals over the course of the film, the count of those is certainly higher than one but they just don’t come at the end, and many of them come before that long torture scene I’ve already talked about my dislike of so that may do a bit to wear down the effect they have on the viewer as we’re just sort of dragged over this grating cinematic sandpaper for 10 minutes, and it’s just some great cataclysm of form when we already knew they were going to make it out and be happy together. It’s a great ending to a great film; but I’m not ready yet to say one of the greatest endings of all time to one of the greatest films of all time (as much as it would be a great experience to see it again and see if it is; I don’t know how much I emphasized it before but as the momentum kept on gaining and gaining towards the end I was questioning why I didn’t think the film was close to the Masterpiece level beforehand, obviously the torture scene just felt like a bit of a tangential distraction after one viewing and pushed it back down a little for me but I often feel as if the first viewing is rather tentative and the second gives you more opportunity to examine the more intricate features of a film that may have gone over your head the first time, certainly Fellini’s Casanova was a film where a lot went over my head the first time, Melancholia has still been stuck in my head like an axe since July when I saw it again and moved it up hundreds of spots from where I had it before), though still this is a tree I’m barking up for no reason, I’m not sure why I’m fighting this fight for something that I don’t care much about and making it appear like I have a problem with how The Handmaiden ends when I don’t at all, it’s only just to clarify a short segment of another review that I’m sure nobody really even noticed that much, so that’s that.
And well, now for some other responses I guess. Like I’ve said (or maybe I haven’t? I don’t even know half the things I’ve written in these massive blocks of text that I write several of one day and then don’t come back to for weeks when I write a few more so I don’t know if I’ve actually said this already) the big thing keeping me from posting again here was that I wanted to talk about Fellini’s Casanova, and I’ve done that, so here goes.
About “I thought it was a damn big MP until the end,” so yes, this is part of why it would be of great use to see Oldboy again, to gain another perspective on the ending. So, to James, I don’t actually hate the ending of Psycho with the psychiatric explanation that much (which is also not the “ending” specifically which is the glorious magnificent finish with Perkins alone in the police station and the car being dragged out of the mud) or The Magnificent Ambersons’ ending either for that matter. On the topic of Red River, sure, I haven’t seen that film in more than a year and a half at this point but I’ll admit that the interruption of the climactic fight we had been dying to see for the entire runtime was perhaps a bit less than what could have been, but Hawks is a filmmaker who needs a more thorough runthrough than I may have given him in past years where I was not as experienced in film criticism as now. But about the endings of those 3 films, all of them came across to me, at least at the time, as coming about organically and taking place within the same world as the rest of the film, those endings feel like they were written at the same time as and in the same headspace as the filmmakers were when they created the rest of the film that led up to them. After one viewing, Oldboy’s ending just came across like an afterthought, that came about when Park was in a different mindset compared to when he made the rest of the film that it felt like it stands apart from. When the specified endings of those other films you mentioned come about, you don’t feel like you are wondering why the film hasn’t ended yet, and that is because no reasonable conclusion has yet passed over your eyes but with Oldboy’s ending in the snowy mountains you do or at least I did because an amazing one had and it was not used to the fullest. Like I was saying earlier about the “shockwave” and all, that came with the suicide in the elevator after the sister fell off the dam, not in those mountains. And for the record, a lot of the problem I had with Oldboy’s ending came with the fact that it was too long rather than the thing itself, as by the time it was definitively over the shockwave had worn off a little as I’ve said. And this is not something that has been exclusive to Oldboy either; in recent memory certainly The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which I saw a few months ago, while it maybe had a bit of a struggle up the steps at first with some things like the elderly child Brad Pitt CGI that weren’t amazing, certainly in the last 30-40 minutes or so as we get closer and closer to his fate Fincher had really bought me on the idea that it could actually be yet another Masterpiece of his canon, but then like The Handmaiden (not so much Oldboy) the sort of editing whirlpool of havoc is not held onto forever and there are some scenes that come in and are not as gobsmackingly audacious as those that come before them and a bit of that momentum dissipates outward, despite the praiseworthy ending with the clock in the station that’s both the same and different from the clock at the beginning of the film and Hurricane Katrina coming in at the end and all, and it ends up as a highly ambitious and remarkable work but not as a Masterpiece, or at least not after one viewing. With the Oldboy scene, you’re watching something that is wildly different in tone and style to the entirety of the film that comes before it and it almost feels like a refutation of much of the artistic vision that had contributed to the possibility of it being a Masterpiece in the first place and that is rather baffling. Again, that’s just what I got off of seeing it once, and again, I’ll throw it out that when I saw Fellini’s Casanova for the first time, I thought Donald Sutherland was just a sex-addicted freak (which he still is) who was utterly blind to how despised and unwanted he was by everyone around him whenever he would try to talk about his grand artistic and scientific achievements, and his only sort of human emotional reaction to anything in the film at all was his realization that that is exactly what he is at the ending scene and how devastated he is by that. Was I correct then? Fuck no! I was fucking wrong! In the first 15 minutes of the movie we see him recognizing how he’s only invited around to parties and courts for his sexual prowess and nobody gives a damn about whether he can do anything else, he’s just their entertainment, their jester, so obviously my interpretation of events was way off back when I first saw that film. And it’s very much possible that the same thing will happen when I next throw Oldboy on a screen because the first 112 minutes of it are some of the greatest cinema I’ve ever seen and the final expression on Choi’s face is a damn powerful shot.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed your Bong Joon-ho sojourn (assuming you did that), I saw Memories of Murder in September for the first time with my family, it’s a film I do feel like I got as much out of one viewing as was realistically possible, I’d call it a Masterpiece.
For anyone interested, a few other retrospectives I’ve been doing have been like John Schlesinger where I watch like one film every couple months (really need to get more consistent with him), I threw on Terence Davies in November, then Roy Andersson, hard to say whether I’ll go any further with him but Todd Solondz is another I’ve recently seen two films from and I need to keep up on my Raul Ruiz too but his work is not the easiest to find in great quality, I’ve been very intrigued by his Manoel’s Destinies film from 1984 that everybody says is even stronger than Three Crowns of the Sailor, which is available to me but not in any sort of great quality as it was a TV miniseries that has not been restored since it’s original release; still out of desperation I may just do it anyway.
@Zane – thanks for the response and no worries, sounds like you’ve had a busy schedule.
Regarding Psycho (1960)
Thank you, I stand corrected that was not the final scene and I also don’t mind that scene with the doctor explaining Norman all that much either, but some people do. The final shot of Norman Bates and the voice of Norma is so haunting as it segues to the car pulled out of lake
Regarding The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
It had an opportunity for a perfect ending with George next to his mother in the bedroom as Orson Welles narrates the following:
“Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Minafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him.”
Regarding Oldboy (2003)
With Oldboy and really the entire “Revenge Trilogy” Park Chan Wook tells 3 very different stories connected by theme rather than narrative, yet I don’t believe Wook is necessarily trying to convey any “message” although they obviously show the futility of revenge. With Oldboy I agree the first time I watched it the ending seemed a little disconnected, but I think the location had a significant impact as all of the sudden they were in this open Wintry landscape. What I think ultimately matters is that the ending is deliberately ambiguous with two possibilities, both disturbing; either they will be forced to accept and confront the terrible truth or remain ignorant of the terrible truth. I do think the abrupt change in setting is at least partially responsible for why I did not love the ending initially. I still think the ending scene was somewhat anti-climactic but even, so I still don’t think it significantly alters anything in the film that came before it.
Also I am a little confused by these 2 statements you make as they seem contradictory:
“And for the record, a lot of the problem I had with Oldboy’s ending came with the fact that it was too long rather than the thing itself”
“With the Oldboy scene, you’re watching something that is wildly different in tone and style to the entirety of the film that comes before it and it almost feels like a refutation of much of the artistic vision that had contributed to the possibility of it being a Masterpiece in the first place and that is rather baffling.”
@Zane – btw didn’t mean to sound harsh on above post, I always enjoy going back and forth with you.
About Bong Joon-ho, I actually ended up going a different way and did a Dario Argento study near Halloween time and then a Howard Hawks study then a Robert Siodmak study (inspired after another viewing of his brilliant version of The Killers) For that one I posted my notes and thoughts on the page for The Killer (1946) since there is not a page for Robert Siodmak. I am currently doing a Coen Brother’s study.
@James @Zane – I rewatched Oldboy for the first time in about 3 years last night and I can’t say I have any problems with it. The film is so tightly paced and only 2 hours so a 6 minute epilogue isn’t that indulgent to me. It’s worth it overall because we get the great shot of Choi Min-sik walking infront of that wave mural with the purple light, and also the famous closing shot which reminds me of Inception in that it sticks with you in that open ended way.
The ending also ties up the loose end of the voice-over that runs through the whole film by tying it to the letter that the hypnotist reads (its also good that Chan Wook brings her back rather than introducing a new character at the last minute).
Just feel like the final shot of him smiling is more impactful than ending with the double suicide shock.
Shock wears off on a repeat viewing but haunting visuals do not.
@Harry – yeah I stand corrected, I implied the hypnotist is a new character and she is not as she was introducted earlier in film. Agree that I don’t think the film should have ended with the double suicide or any other ending scene that does not have Oh Dae-su. The more I think about it the more I am satisfied with the final scene even though I will still maintain that it is not one of my favorite endings; the rest of the film is so amazing that I consider it a top 50 film of all time.
These are my ratings for Park Chan-wook’s films –
Joint Security Area – 5/10
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance – 6/10
Oldboy – 7/10
Lady Vengeance – 5/10
Thirst – 3/10
The Handmaiden – 7/10
Decision to Leave – 5/10
Maybe I am just trying to convince myself for reasons to keep MUBI but there is a short from Park Chan Wook that I enjoyed called “Judgement” that is its film of the day, it’s only 26 min but worth a viewing.
Drake, curious as to whether you caught Old Boy again recently and what grade would you give it?
@James Trapp – I did- caught Old Boy again- have it as a MS/MP
@Drake – nice, not quite as high as me but good to hear you think its borderline MP level
I’m excited to revisit Decision to Leave (2022) which finally came to MUBI for streaming. I haven’t seen since the one time in theatre
I imagine you have already seen it, Drake, but if you haven’t seen Decision to Leave definitely do so. I think it’s one of the best of this year
@Matthew- Thanks. I have been able to catch up with this one – yes. I would love to get to it again before putting up my 2022 page.
@James Trapp- Thank you for the help here
Does anyone understand the symbolism of the ocean and mountains in Decision to Leave? The dichotomy of that is clearly important, a lot of attention is thrown to it
I’ve only seen it once but my interpretation on first viewing was that he was often associated with mountains while she was the ocean. For them to meet would require a huge fall for him, but ultimately they are incompatible because of this distinction. I write a little about this in my review but a second viewing would probably help here.
Thanks to both you and James. I love the aesthetic of your site by the way, it looks incredible
Thanks Matthew, I’ve put a bit of work into it!
@Matthew – Check out this video
Now with the 2022 page I’m excited to see Wook shoot up this list with the next update.
@Harry – same, I remember being a little surprised by the #220 ranking when I first saw a couple of years ago but obviously this will skyrocket with multiple MP or near MPs