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The Bottom Shelf #135

11.22.2007

It's the time for thanks. This year, I'm thankful that I'm going to be eating the insides of some poor, dumb-f*ck animal rather than waking up to discover a part of myself missing.

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002)
Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Starring: Ha-kyun Shin, Kang-ho Song

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Watching a movie which says so much in its utter simplicity is a joy to behold. Far too many movies lately are drenched in monologues of self-awareness, chock full of quirky observations and snide asides that manage to make the characters look as if they're smarter than they really are. Pseudo-intellectualism at its finest. In the long run, the actions that take place are so inconsequential or inanely mundane and counterproductive to their self-important monologuing that you lose complete interest even if you've been struggling to follow along from the get-go. Why can't more movies have a simple purpose to them that is carried out with eloquent simplicity and symbolism? In other words, why do so few movies leave the discussions up to the audience once the lights have gone back up?

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE is one that manages to do so. That could be leant to the fact that the lead character is a deaf mute and that much of what happens is seen through his lack of senses. When his beloved older sister needs a kidney transplant, he goes out in search of a new one. Only problem is that his search leads him to the black market where the urban legends really do come to life and he is left naked and kidney-less in an abandoned building. As a way to rectify the situation, he goes along with his revolutionary girlfriend's suggestion to kidnap the daughter of a rich man in order to get the money to have the surgery performed. Their intentions are simple: get the money, return the girl safely. But when the sister finds out about the plan, things spiral madly out of control.

A Hamlet-esque story if there ever was one, there are large gaps where nothing is spoken between the characters. The acting is done vastly through glances and expressions as well as a sharp directional skill which doesn't pan and scan to the point of making you delirious and doesn't give you bits and pieces of a puzzle that is supposed to be put together as the action continues. You live through the actions of the characters, walking along side them, living, breathing and dying along with them. You have sympathy for almost everyone involved (watching the black market organ thieves get their due is deliciously satisfying) and can place yourself in their shoes. Granted, I'm the type of person who likes to assess situations from every different perspective, so that might help in being able to understand the love and loss of all involved. If you're the type of person who prefers to have a definitive "good" guy and "bad" guy, this movie might leave you frustrated. Lately, people seem to fall more on the J side of things (it's an MBTI reference, those who know it will get it, those who don't should look it up), wanting to have simple explanations in a complicated world. While frustrating at times, I prefer to struggle with important moral decisions. I really liked that this movie saw things the same way.

Favorite Scene:

Seeing the screwdriver sticking out of the guy's neck was pretty cool. Watching what happened after he pulled it out was even cooler.

Favorite Line:

"He's mentally disabled, not stupid."

Trivia Tidbit:

Originally director Chan-wook Park wanted the colors to fade to black and white as the film progressed. Budget constraints prevented the color desaturation of THE MOVIE but Park would revisit the idea of color desaturation with the Region 3 Special Edition release of 'SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE', which included a director's cut where the colors fade to black and white during the film's progression.

See if you liked:

OLDBOY, LITTLE CHILDREN, CHILDREN OF MEN

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002)
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou

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Tragic love stories are the foundation of the movie industry, with loves being lost to death, other people, natural disasters, and alien life forms. Most of the time, however, a love story hinted at is usually delivered in the end, sealed with the most cliche of kisses. Don't get me wrong, I think there's a place and a purpose to those types of movies just as there is a point and purpose to a movie like DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, where a tragic love story never comes to even a lip locking dismissal. There are a lot of other things going on within this movie but at the heart of it there is an ache which never is quenched. And I have a great deal of respect for that.

The movie seems to focus on Chiwetel Ejiofor's character of Okwe, an illegal immigrant working as a taxi driver and hotel concierge in London, England. He is identified as having previously been a doctor but the circumstances for why he is no longer living in his home country remain largely unclear for the majority of the film. He works alongside other immigrants, including the Turkish Senay (French actress Audrey Tautou in her first English speaking role) whom he has built a tentative friendship with through sharing a living space with her. When Okwe discovers a human heart as the cause of a blockage in one of the hotel's toilets, it kicks off a seedy tale of human organ trading, where immigrants come to the hotel to exchange their organs for passports.

The movie is strong in its ugliness, practically pungent with the stench of human misery. When the scenes are set in the hotel, the lighting is in golden hues, giving off a look of false warmth, like a lure to inevitable pain and destruction. When the scenes are set on the street and in the back alleys and sweat shops, the lighting changes to a dingy grey, as if the world suddenly became coated in discarded cigarette ash. There is no escape from either side of the foul nature of humanity, save for the deep pools of brown in both Ejiofor's and Tautou's eyes. Both do a majority of their acting with flinching glances, drawing you to them as the only beacons of purity. And while there isn't the satisfaction of watching the two leads share a fleeting moment of happiness together, there is a highly rewarding comeuppance scene for the movie's villain. A fantastic taste of his own medicine situation if there ever was one.

Favorite Scene:

When Juliette remarks on the lost virginity of Senay (a Muslim) with "Jesus!" and Senay responds with a "Mohammed."

Favorite Line:

"You know, Okwe, good at chess usually means bad at life. You do realize that she's in love with you, don't you? I've been with her 20 minutes, and I know it. But then, I'm bad at chess."

Trivia Tidbit:

Director Frears has directed six women to acting Oscar nominations: Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer (DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988)), Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening (THE GRIFTERS (1990)), Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN (2006)) and Judi Dench. (MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS (2005)).

See if you liked:

LITTLE FISH, DEAD RINGERS, THE QUEEN

There's this sick part of my brain that conjures up visions of turkeys getting together and learning how to wield axes, chasing down the slower humans, which... let's face it, would be the majority of the overstuffed f*cks after Thanksgiving meals, chopping us up and dining on our insides. Like, they send out a few decoys to take one for the team and then hit the ultimate jackpot. I so think Guy Ritchie should direct that one.

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