The year in review – Part One

I thought I’d do something a little different this year as we near the end of December.  There will still be my final Top Ten of 2010, but for now I thought I’d offer a critical look back on the movies I have watched since January.  Note:  This is not a review of movies released in 2010, as there’s many I haven’t been able to see, rather this is a look at what movies I’ve seen that have impressed me, regardless of original release date.

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Viewed – 19 February 2010  Blu-ray

What is it about Vampires lately?  They seem to be everywhere in the media, from countless movies, most notably the popular Twilight franchise, and on TV with the likes of The Vampire Diaries and True Blood.  Yet these endeavours seem a little clichéd, lacking in imagination and a little ‘safe’.  Something that can’t be said of Korean director Park Chan-wook’s latest entry.  The (rightly) acclaimed director of OldBoy and Sympathy For Mr Vengeance dips his toe into the blood sucking genre and as expected, delivers something totally unique and fresh.

Kang-ho Song plays Priest Sang-hyeon who undergoes as experimental drugs testing scheme to find a cure for a disease slowly killing the patients of a hospital that he attends.  Yet said test leads to him developing a thirst for blood, and he soon discovers he has been inadvertently turned into a vampire.  Whilst believed to be a miracle survivor of the disease, and worshipped by the public, he bonds with the family of a cancer victim, and soon catches the eye of his strange and downtrodden young wife, Tae-Ju.  It’s not long then that they begin an illicit affair, and his vampire secret is revealed to the young woman, beginning a bizarre love story.

Yet as this is Park Chan-wook, things develop much more intricate and complex than first expected, and although full of blood sucking, splashes of gore and some clever special effects, proves more of a meaningful drama than a horror.  The camera work and cinematography are stunning, the set design and framing of every shot, a subtle work of art, and the haunting music increases the overall power of this slow burning but very effective movie.  Kang-ho Song is brilliant as the conflicted priest, battling both his bloodthirsty urges and his faith, whilst Ok-bin Kim as the slightly deranged Tae-ju often steals the show, with a stunning and intense performance.  I’ll admit that at times it’s a bit disgusting with some gross sound effects to accompany not only the blood sucking, but kissing and some awkward sex, and the movie is overly drawn out and too long. Yet this is still a quality example of the vampire myth, given a little more flair than we’ve seen recently, and once again marks the director as a master of his art.

Verdict:  4 /5

I’m A Cyborg

Viewed – 11 October 2008  DVD

Oh my god, this was a strange film.  I rented it because basically, this was directed by Park Chan Wook, who made (for me at least) three of the most impressive foreign movies I think I’ve seen in years, namely his celebrated Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Old Boy and Lady Vengeance).

This weird tale follows the story of a young woman who is put in a mental hospital after she electrocutes herself whilst working in a factory by slitting her wrist open, putting a cable in her arm and wiring herself up to the mains (!!).  You see after the trauma of seeing her mentally ill grandmother sent away in an ambulance, the young woman thinks she is a cyborg for some reason.  For the rest of the movie, she believes she’s this robot, and goes on hunger strike thinking food will cause her to shut down.  She even goes about licking batteries for energy, but soon befriends a guy who is also a patient and has more than a few problems of his own.

This eye-catching film is difficult to follow, as it has a very vague narrative, lots of surreal imagery (including the woman shooting up all the doctors in the hospital with her fingers, in a brilliant sequence) and lots of bizarre characters.  Its also difficult to recommend this to anyone, as really I can’t see anyone particularly enjoying it – its very talky so the subtitles prove hard to keep up with, the characters aren’t particularly likable and it just kinda ends, with nothing really resolved.  On a plus though, its very nice to look at, has some startling set design and a vivid colour scheme, so maybe if arty pretty films are your bag, make it a 3, but otherwise…

Verdict:  2 /5