November 17th, 2006
This film is elemental and relentless. Just when you think you have it figured out, it always gets worse; just when you start thinking “I wonder if THAT could happen,” you can be assured that it will. But not in the way you were thinking.
Green-haired deaf-mute Ryu works in a hellish steel plant to try and afford a kidney transplant for his sister. When he is fired from his job he turns to the organ black market. This results in the loss of his life savings and one of his own kidneys.
Here’s Ryu waking up naked and short a kidney in a deserted parking garage. I think the rose is a nice touch.
Ryu gets fired from his job. He and his anarchist girlfriend Youngmin kidnap the boss’s daughter to get money for a kidney, but in the meantime his despairing sister commits suicide.
Here’s an artful overhead shot of Ryu burying his sister with rocks.
Ryu and Youngmin intend a “good kidnapping” - one where the money is paid, the kid has fun and gets home safely, and the police aren’t involved. But as we come to expect in this movie, the kidnapping goes bad and the little girl dies.
The father of the kidnapped girl seeks vengeance against Ryu and his girlfriend. Ryu seeks vengeance against the organ black-marketeers, whom he blames for his sister’s death. We, the viewers, are never sure who we should feel sympathy for, because there is no real sense of evil.
What everyone did made sense to them at the time, and most of the characters are equally sympathetic. Of course the grieving father wants vengeance; his wife had left him, he was doing his best, he loved his little daughter. He didn’t do anything wrong. And Ryu and Youngmin are no monsters either. Everything they did was meant to save the life of Ryu’s sister.
In a sweet and inventive touch, deaf-mute Ryu and his girlfriend prop a mirror at the foot of their bed so they can talk in signs without having to turn their heads.
The last half-hour or so is Shakespearean in its relentless destruction of almost everyone, by means both gruesome and unexpected. Some call this an exploitation flick. Sure it’s horrible, but I’m convinced there are big themes in play which cannot be ignored. The film is beautifully photographed, and often perceptive and funny amidst the carnage.
And it has a social conscience. Here we see a suicidal former factory worker confronting his boss. He has a knife and he’s going to use it.
As you watch someone attach electrodes to a girl’s ears and turn the dial, you might have to remind yourself that after all, it’s just a movie. It isn’t REAL. And you don’t have to look.
This film out-Tarantinoes Tarantino. I like it a lot. Next: Oldboy.