Park Chan-Wook

Recently, I caught up with three films from the greatest director that America hasn't heard of...yet.

He's from South Korea, his film OLDBOY won 2nd place at last years Cannes Film Festival, and it comes to DVD right around the same time that his best film arrives at the art house.

His name is Park Chan-Wook (sometimes listed as Chan-Wook Park) and he is stunning.

His first, JOINT SECURITY AREA (or JSA) is a military drama involving the tensions between North and South Korea. The story focuses on a shooting and unusual friendship between border guards on both sides. It's sort of like A FEW GOOD MEN mixed with A MIDNIGHT CLEAR. This is Park's normal movie, very good for its type with supberb performances and a really big emotional center. This was such a big hit in Korea that Park was able to follow it up with whatever he wanted to make.

What he made was SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE. Now this one is far and away my favorite, an emotionally devestating masterpiece. The basic story involves a kidnapping that goes wrong. Fairly standard stuff, but when things get bad and the dominos, this film does not flinch. You care for everyone involved and what happens is sometimes painful to watch. But Park isn't reveling in the violence (which is much more emotional than physical). Park tells a lot of real truth about the nature and consequence of revenge. In fact, it may be the SCHINDLER'S LIST of revenge pictures. Not the cheery fun of KILL BILL, but a film that really hits a raw nerve and dares you to keep watching. It openes at the Nuart in L.A. in mid August, and I hear a DVD release will happen later this year. DO NOT MISS THIS MASTERPIECE.

Finally there's OLDBOY. How's this for a premise...a man is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, then mysteriously released. Now he must find out who did it, and even more importantly...why. This film is also excellent, but it's also the strangest of the 3 pictures. Park has a cold visual mastery that reminds me of David Fincher (yes, my favorite director). In OLDBOY, he also adds a touch of David Lynch. The imprisonment does funny things to the lead characters head and he has some visions that are really strange. Still a good film, but if this is the first one you see and it throws you off, don't write Park off yet. OLDBOY comes to DVD on Aug. 23.

I should also add that his films aren't the easiest to follow. His structure sometimes jumps ahead and leave you confused for a little bit. (For example, SYMPATHY doesn't show the kidnapping. It shows the girl and then she's just napped.) But please don't let that deter you.

Chan-wook Park IS one of the very best director making movies today.


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