Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ants for the Lonely

Twitter Sonnet #122

Hope breaks no bones falling with thoughtless snow.
When you get back to the top there's buzzards.
Accepting all disks lets computers grow.
Cats inspect cords to avoid shock hazards.
The bark's umbrella has lost its pink leaves.
A new colour must the xylophone learn.
For mechanical maulings the heart grieves.
Tiger wounds are mended by Howard Stern.
Mean store gondolas tower behind you.
Blue shirts are always seeking openings.
Fighting shelves is an unwise thing to do.
Hot caffeine bids you rest under awnings.
Old streets are buried under a mountain.
A canine idea's big as Great Britain.

I watched Oldboy last night, the second in Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy, and holy shit, it's at least 8 million times better than Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. It's almost as though Park was working to improve upon exactly the primary shortcoming I saw in the first film--instead of the dull, uninteresting characters of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Dae-su, Oldboy's protagonist, is played by Min-sik Choi first as a boisterous drunk and then, after he's been imprisoned for 15 years in a fake hotel room, as a fascinating, inward man who exudes personality like radiation. It doesn't hurt that his hair makes him look like Robert Smith for much of the film.

The movie even has interesting, noir-ish voice over narration. The plot's still filled with holes, but it completely doesn't matter because the characters work like motherfuckers this time. The imagery's great again, and mostly it serves the story, and things were being told so well I enjoyed tangents like a barely relevant flashback one character has to seeing a giant ant on a subway.

Although there's plenty of noir-ish things about the movie, including a soundtrack with each track named after a different movie, many of which are films noir, I think the argument could be made that Oldboy's technically not noir. It is certainly a tragedy, and a link on the Wikipedia article to Greek tragedy is incredibly appropriate, but this movie is a keen illustration of the concept Park mentioned in the quote I posted yesterday, of characters who are good people obsessed with their "inevitably" committed wrongdoings. I'm thinking perhaps the quote was badly translated, because there are very few of the series of bizarre misfortunes and crimes portrayed in the Vengeance films I've seen so far that one could call "inevitable". I'm think perhaps Park meant to say that the unpleasant existences in which these characters find themselves are frequently beyond their control--it's all mechanics of fate. Oldboy even heavily relies on hypnosis controlling its characters. Fatalism is certainly an aspect of film noir, but more important is existentialism and the idea of people doomed to free will. The soundtrack references Out of the Past, but while one could look to Jeff's past to see things he can genuinely feel guilt and shame about, Dae-su's wrongdoings in Oldboy are all definitely the fault of the film's villains. It's reasonable for him to feel terrible about what happened, but ultimately not responsible for what happened. His wrongdoings aren't generated by his own flaws, but by flaws imposed on him by others.

This isn't a bad or a good thing about the movie, mind you. It merely makes it a different kind of movie, one more about how weird and terrible life is for the protagonists, a story which is engaging and cathartic because of how well crafted the characters are.

It's also an action film, and there's a famous scene where Dae-su fights fifty or so men in a long unbroken shot that I found absolutely wonderful. It's not slick, balletic martial arts, but a sloppy brawl where Dae-su comes out the winner through shear tenacity. This scene alone is a great story, but it happens to be part of a larger, also great story.

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