Archive for the Asian Cinema Category

I Saw The Devil.

Posted in Asian Cinema, extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , on Wednesday, 5 September, 2012 by Ed

I Saw The DevilRevenge movies have largely gone the way of the zombie film in recent years; they are overdone to the point of tedium and it requires a picture of high quality to elevate itself above the dross. I Saw The Devil does just this.

 With the sub-genre having been debased to the very formulaic structure of: Act One being half-an-hour of prolonged murder, Act Two being the attempt to capture the antagonist and Act Three being half-an-hour of bloody revenge; I Saw The Devil proves beyond doubt that you don’t need an original plot to produce an intelligent and engaging film, if you structure it in an interesting way. It is atmospheric and beautifully shot, and once the viewer is immersed to the point that they trust the competence of the director, the actions of the characters become enjoyably unpredictable. This is executed by fine acting from the two leads.

 With a commendable freshness, Director Jee-woon Kim deftly weaves this familiar tale – of the bereaved husband seeking revenge for the murder of his pregnant wife. Whilst it is undeniably violent, the film never once feels gratuitous. Recognising the need to effectively vilify his serial killer antagonist, Kim avoids the pitfalls of lesser filmmakers by eschewing lingering scenes of women being murdered, yet skilfully creates his villain by showing the intense, merciless fervour with which he slaughters. Thus, each of the killer’s actions shock and offend the viewer anew, rather than serving to desensitise.

 I Saw The Devil does not feel long at a 2.5 hour running time. This is achieved by interspersing the main story arc, of pursuit and revenge, with an interesting focus on the emotions and motivation of several of the characters. There are moments of black comedy and some well executed action sequences that would not be out of place in a more mainstream film. Kim defies our expectations by having the antagonist ensnared repeatedly – only to be released to prolong the hunt.

 It is the exploration of the nature of revenge that raises I Saw The Devil above the norm. It functions to examine revenge as a base emotion and what this ultimately achieves. Does revenge simply become a convenient obsession to distract from grief, and if so, what happens should revenge be realised or not? Kim addresses this theme successfully without it encroaching on the plot or ever being condescending.

 I Saw The Devil is disturbing, entertaining and thought-provoking. It remains unpredictable to the end, despite feeling very familiar. Jee-woon Kim creates a world with a palpable sense of threat and obsession, which is not only a beacon in a tired and lazy revenge sub-genre, but the new standard for all modern horror thrillers.

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Ichi The Killer

Posted in Asian Cinema, extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , on Wednesday, 30 March, 2011 by Ed

Ichi The Killer deals predominantly with the theme of sadism, but in a fun way! This classic from Takashi Miike is extremely violent, but on the whole it is akin to reading a graphic novel more than watching extreme cinema, perhaps telling of its origins in Manga.

Produced around the beginning of the boom period for Asian Cinema (especially, at the time, for Japanese Cinema) the basis of the plot can be condensed down to the following: one gang of Yakuza has their boss kidnapped and will stop at nothing to get him back. Of course being Japanese the film has subplots, bizarre character arcs and a small measure of surrealism thrown into the mix.

At the forefront of the story is Kakihara, leading the charge to find his estranged boss. He does so with an enthusiasm fuelled by his hyper-defined sense of sadism – he has turned the enjoyment of other peoples suffering into an art form. The calm relish with which he absorbs as pleasure the pain he inflicts verges on an addiction.

Kakihara is not without his honour, and is not afraid to embrace the masochism antithesis of his love of sadism. Having tortured the wrong individual for information (a prolonged scene which involves giant fishing hooks and ladles of boiling oil) he volunteers to permanently remove his own ability to indulge his love of sweet food – and does so, graphically – with a sword.

Eventually the titular Ichi enters the fray – murdering the Yakuza as he goes along. He is a repressed, unassuming character which conceals his psychotic mind, martial arts prowess and customised shoes with blades in them! The film twists and coils around bizarre and horrendous scenes towards the final showdown between the sadistic Kakihara and Ichi The Killer!

There can be no doubt that the violence in Ichi The Killer is for the most part cartoonish, albeit graphic and horrific. However Miike does not let the viewer off that easily. There are scenes of disturbing brutality which brings the shock aspect of the film into sharp focus. Even from the very beginning a woman being beaten and abused forces the viewer to question why some portrayals of violence will illicit disgusted laughter – and others a cold, shocked silence.

Perhaps this is commentary on modern society, and if it is specifically on Japanese society it will be difficult for the Western audience to fully comprehend – certainly there were parts of the film that seemed to contain aspects that were elusive. However, it was clear that the influence of sex and violence on society were strong messages – especially the sadism of Kakihara speaking of the enjoyment of violence. Also interesting is the character of Karen – not only given a Western name but also random parts of her dialogue were in English, clearly speaking of the influence (Miike does not suggest for good or for bad) of Western culture and it’s infiltration of Japanese society.

When compared to Takashi Miike’s other offerings, Ichi The Killer is the most enjoyable and satisfying. It contains elements of the bizarre seen in Visitor Q and the sadism in the pay-off in Audition – but blended in a more standard narrative format which is well paced and entertaining. Ichi The Killer is a modern classic, not just of Asian Cinema, but a true cinematic great which will continue to be referenced for its originality and accomplishment for decades to come.