WINNER of 3 Blue Dragon Film Awards in its native South Korea including Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director as well as earning a top honor by nabbing the prestigious Grand Prix in 2004 Cannes Film Festival, Park Chan-Wook's second "revenge trilogy" venture following after his 2002's moody SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, is far edgier, grittier and broader in tone all wrapped up in a bizarre revenge fable unlike anything you've seen before.
The film begins with the pudgy, clumsy and no-good born loser Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-Sik) who humiliates himself in a police-station holding area. Arrested for public drunkenness on his daughter's birthday, the feathery costume wings he bought as a last-minute gift still in their paper bag and he's eventually bailed out by a friend. But as the friend makes a phone call, Dae-su simply disppears from the busy, rain-soaked Seoul street. Then for a reason unknown, he later finds himself wakes up in a seedy, windowless hotel room complete with a steel door that looks like a prison cell. He is held by unseen captors who refuse whatsoever to tell him where he is, why he's there or when exactly he'll be allowed to set free. The only thing he's granted for are his daily meals of the same fried dumplings and a small television, from which he learns that his wife has been murdered and he's the lead suspect. Soon he begins to figure out his escape plan by digging a tunnel with a pair of chopsticks, while transforming himself into a lean, scruffy person. But before he's able to dig his way out completely, he is being released all of the sudden, with little explaination, of course and it's has been 15 years already. He wakes up in a suitcase on a grassy high-rise rooftop where he witnesses a depressed man who's about to commit suicide. Along with a couple of money and a cellular phone given by a bum on the street, Oh Dae-su makes his way to a restaurant and orders "something alive", faints while swallowing a squirming octopus and wakes up again in the shabby apartment of a pretty, alienated sushi chef Mido (Kang Hye-Jung), who later falls for him. But Oh Dae-Su has a score to settle -- he's determined to find whoever responsible of ruining his life and punished them for good. What happens next you just have to find out on your own.
Hwang Jo-Yun, Lim Joon-Hyung and Park Chan-Wook's screenplay is consistently flowing with careful pacing while it gets interesting the more we see Dae-su's bleak quest to find out the truth. The feverish, ruthless world director Park evokes here is deeply provocative and structures the film's climax in an escalating series of disturbing nature that becomes increasingly shocking and violent. With Jeong Jeong-Hun's stylish cinematography, Park employs a variety of slick camera techniques with such mesmerizing flair it's hard to take your eyes off.
All the technical attributes are first-rate, while the film contains some memorable scenes it's simply lingered into your mind for a long while: the infamous live squid eating scene; the five-minute long tracking shot of a violent fistfight sequence between Dae-su against a bunch of armed bad guys in a narrow corridor; the intense full-frontal sex scene between Dae-su and Mido; and a disgusting scene where Dae-su snips off his own tongue with a pair of large scissor. To make all the extreme violence more justified, Park evokes that everything happens for a reason and not for the sake of gratuitous outcome.
The characters are sharply defined and broadly drawn we really come to feel for Dae-su's desperate odyssey for an ultimate vengeance. And Choi Min-Sik is simply excellent, delivering both bruising emotion and physical attributes with pounding result. Kang Hye-Jeong, in the meantime, is similarly superb while the rest of the cast are equally credible.
Despite the film's violent nature, Park manages to slip in some pitch-black comedy undertone without ruining the gritty tone, while injecting some surreal edge with admirable result.
It's not the film for all taste, but for those who keeps watching right down till the end, it's a shocking but brilliant twist of fate you'll learn the entire truth behind the going-on that'll make you bug-eyed.