Category Archives: Drama

Stoker (2013) Review

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Stoker

Time: 99 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence & sex scenes
Cast:
Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker
Matthew Goode as Charlie Stoker
Nicole Kidman as Evelyn Stoker
Dermot Mulroney as Richard Stoker
Jacki Weaver as Aunt Gwendolyn “Gin” Stoker
Director: Park Chan-wook

After the untimely death of her father, India (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother (Nicole Kidman) are left alone in their estate. Soon, the arrival of her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, is followed by unexpected developments.

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I know of Stoker as Park Chan-wook film starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, and happened to be his English-language debut. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into it outside of the people involved. Having seen it, I wouldn’t say that this is one of his best movies, but almost all of Park’s movies I’ve seen are great, and this is too.

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As it turns out, the screenplay was written by Wentworth Miller, and overall, I thought it was good. It is a very atmospheric, unsettling and mysterious movie, having elements of classic thrillers. The eerie atmosphere is helped by the mystical and mysterious characters in the forefront. It is essentially a gothic mystery drama which dabbles in multiple elements including coming of age, mystery, thriller and unconventional family drama to create a generally compelling story. The story is definitely dark in tone but tame as far as violence is concerned, at least compared to Park Chan-wook’s other movies like his Vengeance trilogy. Instead of relying on overt graphic scenes, it is the suggestion that works for the disturbing elements. The movie does take its time but initially gives you just enough information to have you intrigued. The plot is familiar, and the story can be a little thin and implausible at points. It does require patience as it takes a while to reveal its secrets but I was intrigued throughout. It is also a cold movie with its characters rather distant, but I think that works for the movie’s favour. The movie is 98 minutes long but with the slower pacing it feels closer to like 2 hours, but that’s not necessarily a criticism.

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The performances are great and really make the story even more involving. Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman shine in the lead roles of their strange characters. Wasikowska’s performance in the lead role of India is nuanced and quiet with a lot of hidden emotion that creeps in over time. She’s very mysterious and keeps you guessing what role she plays in the whole story. She was a perfect fit for the role and so far this is the best performance I’ve seen from her. This is also probably the best performance I’ve seen from Matthew Goode as the mysterious uncle of Wasikowska’s character, effectively giving a creepy vibe and a feeling that something is off about him. Nicole Kidman works really well in the movie despite not having a huge amount of screentime, and effectively playing an archetype that has been seen many times before.

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GThe direction from Park Chan-wook is stunning as always, and much of the style is the substance of the whole movie. The movie looks visually beautiful and perfectly shot. With the stylish sets and costumes, it made it difficult to place the film in a context, place or time, making it effectively timeless. The editing is tight and really well done, an example that stands out is one where it transitions from Nicole Kidman’s hair to grass. The transitions particularly stood out. One of the key technical elements is that of the sound editing and mixing, almost like the movie is constructed around them. Much of the movie focuses on the noise of specific objects, and these plays a big part in ramping up tension, in a horror movie like way. The score from Clint Mansell is also solid and works for the movie.

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Stoker again isn’t one of Park Chan-wook’s best movies but it is nonetheless a solid gothic thriller, with an interesting enough story and definitely helped by the strong performances from Wasikowska, Kidman and Goode, and Park’s stylish direction. If you like slow-burn gothic thrillers with a dark and creepy atmosphere I think it’s worth checking out.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) Review

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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Time:  115 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] 
Cast:
Lee Young-ae as Lee Geum-ja
Choi Min-sik as Mr. Baek
Director: Park Chan-wook

Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) has spent the last 13 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. She’s fantasized about getting revenge on the various people who wronged her, including the police officer (Nam Il-u) who forced her to confess and a shady teacher (Choi Min-sik) with whom she has a checkered past. After her release, she teams up with a group of eccentric friends she made while behind bars and sets out to clear her name and find the daughter she was forced to leave behind.

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I heard of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance for a while, mainly that it’s the third part of the Vengeance trilogy from Park Chan-wook. I didn’t know what to expect from the movie, outside it being another movie about revenge I didn’t know anything about the story. I checked it out and it’s actually quite an incredible movie, one of my favourite movies from Park.

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As said earlier, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is another movie about revenge and like the other movies in Park’s Vengeance trilogy, shows the consequences and weight of revenge. The characters here are tired, bleak and just want it done so they can move on. The movie shows the many sides to a human’s moral compass, and what vengeance means to different people. The approach to the subject matter is more thoughtful and nuanced than some other films in the genre, and on the whole I’d have to say that this is one of the most mature movies about revenge I’ve seen. The script is expertly crafted and written. It is surprisingly quite complex, mostly to do with the unconventional structure for the first half. This structure is a little choppy despite the story being relatively straightforward looking back at it, it meant I was a little confused at first but on another viewing I probably would understand it more. The story is haunting and chilling, it’s an incredibly gripping psychological thriller. It isn’t as kinetic and frenzied as many other South Korean revenge film, but it still packs an emotional punch when it needs to. There are some harrowing scenes, and the movie can go from gritty and grounded and into something brutally cold and draining. The movie can be violent, dark and bleak but it’s all done with a purpose. Beneath all the violence lies genuine emotions from everyone affected by these acts, and the movie never falls into a display of cheap thrills. The last third was really well done and a great conclusion to the story. I will say that the movie is quite long, especially at the end. There are so many characters in this movie that are hard to keep track of, some scenes felt dragged out and there’s a lot of exposition that is overdone. Outside of those, I don’t have a huge amount of issues with the movie.

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There are some wonderful performances in this movie, but it ultimately comes down to Lee Young-ae as Lee Geum-ja, the “Lady Vengeance” in this movie. It’s a fantastic performance of a compelling lead character. She’s developed and explored in both flashbacks and the present storyline to give her the backstory and depth needed. She shows such a range throughout the movie, threatening and out for revenge but we also see her more emotional side too. This performance and character definitely plays a big part in the movie working as well as it does. Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-su in Oldboy) plays the real killer behind the murder that Geum-ja was sentenced for. He is great in his role here, and has a commanding presence on screen.

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Unsurprisingly, Park Chan-wook’s directing is incredible. Although each film in the Vengeance trilogy is similar in some way, each of them has its own distinct style, and Lady Vengeance is no exception. The cinematography is gorgeous, every scene is shot well and is mesmerising. The colour schemes were memorable, especially with how the colour tones slowly shift to black and white in the last half. There is a lot of creativity on display in this movie, with some inventive shots and bold transitions. Although the movie can be violent and gory, it does well at knowing when to not show violence completely. You still feel the impact of these scenes all the same. The score is melancholic and fantastic, and really fits the story really well.

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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is a fantastic movie on pretty much every front. It’s directed excellently, the story is complex and compelling, and Lee Young-ae is incredible in the interesting lead role. This would be my second favourite of the Vengeance trilogy, and one of my favourite films from Park Chan-wook.

Oldboy (2003) Review

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Oldboy (2003)

Time:  155 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] 
Cast:
Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su
Yoo Ji-tae as Lee Woo-jin
Kang Hye-jung as Mi-do
Director: Park Chan-wook

A man, held captive for no apparent reason for years, is given a cell phone, money and expensive clothes and released. Unless he finds out the identity of his captor, an even worse fate awaits him.

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Oldboy was the first movie I saw from director Park Chan-wook and it was great, very unique and memorable. Since it had been some years since I last saw it, I decided to rewatch it, and it managed to be even better on second viewing. Fantastic on pretty much every level, it’s one of the best revenge movies ever made.

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The plot follows the lead character who is abducted and held captive in an apartment prison for 15 years. He’s then suddenly released and has to find out who imprisoned him, why he was imprisoned in the first place, and why he was released. I won’t say much about the plot here, if you are a first timer to this movie, go into it knowing as little as possible. It will improve your viewing experience, especially with the twists and turns the plot takes. The writing is great and the story is gripping and fast paced. It starts out as a mystery and turns into a Shakespearean tragedy by the end, layered with clever twists that slowly unravels its mysteries. Oldboy is a revenge movie, and it really is a benchmark in the genre. There is a surprising amount of dark humour which somehow manages to fit in with the rest of the movie. Something to note is that the movie is based off a manga, and so some of the more over the top and pulpy elements of this movie work when you take that into account. Despite some of the over-the-top elements, Oldboy has been called deeply disturbing and nightmarish by many, and that’s because it is. For sure one of the most shocking tales of revenge, it’s twisted and brutal but hard to look away from. The third act is where most of the disturbing stuff comes into play. It really has a perfect finale which rides the many waves of twists and turns that came before, while also being able to end perfectly on an ambiguous note. Watching it again having previously seen how the plot goes, it made for a very different experience, and I was able to appreciate how well everything was put together when I wasn’t overwhelmed with all the revelations the film throws at you.

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The acting from everyone is great, with the main trio particularly delivering some terrific performances. First of all there’s Choi Min-sik as the protagonist Oh Dae-su, who’s on his path of vengeance as he learns why he was locked up for all these years, and who’s responsible. He conveys his character excellently and goes through just about every single emotion here. There’s a moment towards the end of the movie that he absolutely sells with his incredible performance, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without him. Yoo Ji-tae plays the person responsible for Dae-su’s imprisonment, and he’s also a great presence. He’s quite mysterious for the most part of the movie, but he himself also made for an interesting character. He particularly gets to shine at the end of the movie. There’s also Kang Haye-jung as Mi-do, the love interest who plays a vital role, especially in the third act.

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Oldboy is directed very well by Park Chan-wook. First of al the cinematography is stylish, enticing, and has an incredibly unique and memorable look. There’s a lot of surreal and often disturbing imagery, they are still beautifully shot. The action when present is also fantastic, with the camera used to really create a fluidity to the action. The main scene that a lot of people talk about is the one where Dae-su fights around 20-25 people with a hammer in a corridor, it’s shot in one take, the choreography is stunning, and is just all around phenomenal. The editing of the film is very early 2000s but if anything that adds to the style, and also steadily paces the narrative. The sound design is pretty much perfect, and the composed score by Cho Young-Wuk is thrilling and works incredibly well with the rest of the movie.

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Oldboy is an excellent and iconic neo noir revenge film, brutal and disturbing yet beautifully crafted and directed, with a gripping story that’s very well put together, and some incredible performances. It’s definitely not an easy movie to watch, especially for first time viewers, but if you can handle it, I do think it’s worth checking out if you haven’t already.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) Review

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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Time: 129 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] 
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Park Dong-jin
Shin Ha-kyun as Ryu
Bae Doona as Cha Yeong-mia
Director: Park Chan-wook

This is the story of Ryu (Shin Hagyun), a deaf man, and his sister (Lim Ji-Eun), who requires a kidney transplant. Ryu’s boss, Park (Song Kang-ho), has just laid him off, and in order to afford the transplant, Ryu and his girlfriend (Bae Doo-na) develop a plan to kidnap Park’s daughter. Things go horribly wrong, and the situation spirals rapidly into a cycle of violence and revenge.

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I knew of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance as being a film from Chan-wook Park, but also the first movie of his unofficial ‘Vengeance trilogy’, which also includes Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, I just knew that Song Kang-ho was in it, and I heard that it was quite depressing. That certainly turned out to be the case. While it’s not one of my favourite films from Chan-wook Park, it’s incredibly well made and gripping from beginning to end.

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I do think that the plot of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is one worth knowing as little as possible about before watching. All you need to know is that it is a revenge movie and concerns someone (with the help of his girlfriend) who was fired from his job, who then decides to kidnap the daughter of his former boss in order to pay for his sister’s kidney transplant. You really should not look into the plot beyond that especially with the turns that the story makes. Something that some people will notice immediately is the rather slow pacing. Everything is built up rather calmly over the course of the movie especially in the first act, but none of that time is wasted at all. That time is used to set up the world and characters of this movie with incredible care and attention. It is quite absorbing and helps create a strong atmosphere as the situation in the plot gets more intense. What you’ll also notice is that the tone is dreary, gritty and overall sad, with almost no moment of happiness. The movie really is a classic Greek tragedy, and a real gut punch of a thriller, flipping the idea of a revenge film on its head. There’s just a large chain of tragic consequences and brutal reactions throughout the entire story, you don’t really know which of the two main characters to really root for. It deals with many subjects and themes that are incredibly heavy and dark that are present throughout the movie. It is certainly less pulpy and energetic than Oldboy, Park’s next movie after Mr. Vengeance, and there isn’t even a clear-cut villain here like there was in that movie. With that said, it still manages to draw you into its characters, story and world, and keeps you intrigued enough to see how everything ends. I really liked the ending and how everything was concluded, and it was as unflinchingly grim as I expected. The only problem I had was a flashback and narration which was used to explain something, when I didn’t think that it was needed. It’s a small thing but it took me out of it because up until that moment, the story did well at letting you understand what was happening with the story without having to spell it out for the audience.

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The acting is truly spectacular from everyone. The two lead roles of Park Dong-jin and Ryu are performed by Song Kang-ho and Shin Ha-kyun respectively, and their work here is truly phenomenal. Both incapsulated their characters so well and made them truly believable and compelling.

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Park Chan-wook is a great director and his work in this movie doesn’t disappoint. While I wouldn’t put this up there with some of his other movies like Oldboy or The Handmaiden, it’s spectacular. The cinematography is stunning, whether it be capturing a brightly coloured room, or a grungy or dirty location. It really fits the tone of the story. The movie can be very gruesome too, don’t expect any exciting action scenes, it’s unflinchingly brutal and hard to watch at times (as intended).

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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not a fun movie in the conventional sense. However it is a great movie for sure, the story is grim and hard to watch but compelling, and the performances are extraordinary, especially from the leads. You do need to go into the movie with the right mindset, but I think it’s worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of Park Chan-wook’s other movies.

The Dig (2021) Review

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The Dig

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Sex scenes & nudity
Cast:
Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty
Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown
Lily James as Peggy Piggott
Johnny Flynn as Rory Lomax
Ben Chaplin as Stuart Piggott
Ken Stott as Charles Phillips
Archie Barnes as Robert Pretty
Monica Dolan as May Brown
Director: Simon Stone

In the late 1930s, wealthy landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to investigate the mounds on her property in England. He and his team discover a ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground.

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I first heard about The Dig on Netflix as it was one of their movies, it was a movie about digging up something important around World War II, but I wanted to watch because of the cast which includes Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes. Having finally seen it, I can say that it’s nothing that memorable and it’s mostly just okay, but for what it is, a British period drama based on a true story, it’s made fairly well.

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The script for The Dig is rather simple and it was a typical historical film based on a true story. There’s very little surprising or astonishing, and the character beats are predictable. It’s not that nothing of significance happens in this film considering the prospect of finding something important, as well as everything that the characters go through in their own lives. However the stakes feel pretty mild, The Dig is more of an easy, contemplative and laid back experience. It doesn’t try to be anything more than a simple story from the past, and to a degree I respect that. It does cover a real-life story that is interesting mainly for history and archelogy buffs. Even though I’m not an archelogy buff and it didn’t feel like much happened in the story, I thought it was compelling enough, and it had its emotional moments. During the whole first half, I was interested with the characters, and their storylines and how they developed. Where some problems start appearing is in the second half where it loses its focus once it expands beyond the main cast of Mulligan and Fiennes, Fiennes particularly becomes a secondary character. The second half overstays its welcome and introduces some unwelcome subplots, more on that later. Something that most viewers will feel is that the movie moves a little bit slower than it needed to. It certainly felt a little too slow for me to be completely gripped with the story. Some scenes feel unnecessarily long and drag on for quite some time, and despite an hour and 52 minutes not being an extremely long runtime, it does feel a little tedious at times. It certainly isn’t helped by the occasionally dragging pacing. The subplots introduced in the second half were a bit too much, one that comes to mind instantly was a love triangle subplot involving Lily James and Johnny Flynn. It didn’t really add anything to the story, just forced melodrama. After watching the movie I looked up what happened in real life and it turns out the film does take some creative liberties and particularly changes up some key details about the characters. Without getting too into it here, these decisions actually made the movie worse despite the intentions to make things more dramatic and interesting. Unsurprisingly, that aforementioned love triangle was one of the creative liberties taken, in fact much of what happened with Lily James’s character’s story in the movie didn’t happen in real life.

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The cast will be the main draw for most people who watch The Dig, and in fairness there are some really talented actors involved. The main cast are great with Ralph Fiennes as the weathered and capable excavator, and Carey Mulligan as the main landowner whose land is being dug up. Supporting cast was good including Lily James and Johnny Flynn, even the young actor who plays Carey Mulligan’s son.

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The direction from Simon Stone is also pretty good. First of all, it has some fantastic cinematography, really capturing the English countryside’s sights with its glorious wide shots and sweeping camera movements. It even felt like a Terrence Malick movie at times. The production values are strong with the set design and costume design capturing the time period well. Finally the piano score is great, dreamy and relaxing, it really matches the tone of the movie well.

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It does feel like some potential of the Dig was wasted considering the premise and story, and it’s a pretty forgettable movie unfortunately. However for what it’s worth, I think it’s a decent movie. The cast and the directing certainly elevate it quite a lot, and I’m glad I watched it. It is a movie that I would have playing in the background more than actively watching, but it’s an okay movie, and one worth checking out if you like the cast involved or if you’re interested in historical movies.

Old (2021) Review

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Old

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, horror scenes & content may disturb
Cast:
Gael García Bernal as Guy Cappa
Vicky Krieps as Prisca Cappa
Rufus Sewell as Charles
Alex Wolff and Emun Elliott as Trent Cappa
Thomasin McKenzie and Embeth Davidtz as Maddox Cappa
Abbey Lee as Chrystal
Nikki Amuka-Bird as Patricia Carmichael
Ken Leung as Jarin Carmichael
Eliza Scanlen as Kara
Aaron Pierre as Mid-Sized Sedan/Brendan
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

A thriller about a family on a tropical holiday who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly reducing their entire lives into a single day.

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Old was one of my most anticipated films of the year. I am a fan of M. Night Shyamalan, I know that his movies aren’t for everyone and there are a few of his films which don’t really work for me personally. On the whole though, I like his movies. There was a lot of mystery surrounding Old but I knew it was a thriller about aging set on a beach starring Thomasin McKenzie and Vicky Krieps, and it was directed by Shyamalan, so I was interested in how it turned out. I actually really liked it a lot.

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Some have described Old as being Twilight Zone esque and while I’ve never watched the show, I can kind of get what they mean. The plot is fairly straightforward and fairly predicable at times, but has a high concept that they take advantage of, the horror of inescapable aging. The movie is about time as to be expected, with plenty of themes about growing old, experiencing major moments in life in a short time, and effectively is a meditation on time despite being a thriller first and foremost. In most Shyamalan films there is a level of sincerity to how seriously they take the story, and that goes a long way here. The movie is a family drama, and while this dynamic and concept has been in many movies (including horror thrillers), it was handled quite well here. This is one of Shyamalan’s darkest movies, but it also has a lot of heart in it, and it nails the emotional aspect of the story. I face found the story gripping on the whole. In terms of issues with the writing, it does have Shyamalan’s trademark awkward and artificial sounding dialogue as expected. However at this point I accepted it as a Shyamalan thing, if you’re used to it from his other movies, then Old won’t be too hard to get through. The movie has this general level of weirdness to it but I find that it helps the movie have an off kilter feel to it. There are some moments which are funny but some of those feel intentional. I know that a lot of people will compare Old to The Happening, but the former definitely does things a lot better. The invisible horror certainly works a lot better in Old, perhaps because of the existential nature of the rapid aging in the movie. I will say that the tone is a little messy and all over the place. There is indeed a twist as to be expected from Shyamalan, and I think the twist is just okay within the context of the story, but it is one that I’ll need to think about. It does have a big exposition dump and an odd tonal shift that makes it feel out of place, otherwise I was fine with it.

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This movie has quite the talented cast, and I thought that everyone performed their parts greatly. The main family is greatly played by Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie. They had strong chemistry between them and they really felt like a family. The rest of the cast including Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Ken Leung and Eliza Scanlen were also really good in their parts. The performances of the actors playing children who age up quickly (Wolff, McKenzie and Scanlen) particularly do very well at portraying older versions of the children while believably capturing the mentality of the younger people they were hours before. Vicky Krieps, Thomasin McKenzie and Rufus Sewell were the standout performances to me.

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M. Night Shyamalan’s direction is really solid, I think this is some of the best work he’s one on a technical level at the very least. He definitely excels at his smaller scale movies, and this is certainly one of his smallest movies, with it mostly taking place on a beach. Speaking of which, the setting of the beach was great and there were some stunning shots, and certainly a notable amount of use of blocking to hide certain things and capture characters’ perspectives. Shyamalan does a lot with the claustrophobia of the setting and being trapped there, much like how the characters feel. Most of the movie doesn’t have anything overtly violent but when it does, it is effective. There’s even a surprising amount of body horror and in those moments, Shyamalan lets it loose and gets more gnarly than I was expecting it too. Finally, the score works very well for the movie.

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I have heard some people say that Old is M. Night Shyamalan at his absolute ‘most’, and I can sort of see why. If you aren’t a fan of many of Shyamalan’s movies, there might be some aspects about it that might not work with you, from some clunky dialogue, weird tonal changes, and odd story and technical choices. However, I actually quite liked the movie and found it entertaining, the actors were great, I was invested in the story, and it was very well made. It is definitely a divisive movie, but I think it’s worth checking out. It is possibly among Shyamalan’s best films.

Thirst (2009) Review

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Thirst

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Horror, violence, sex scenes & offensive language
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Sang-hyun
Kim Ok-bin as Tae-ju
Kim Hae-sook as Mrs. Ra
Shin Ha-kyun as Kang-woo
Park In-hwan as Priest Roh
Song Young-chang as Seung-dae
Oh Dal-su as Young-du
Director: Park Chan-wook

Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), a priest working for a hospital, selflessly volunteers for a secret vaccine development project intended to eradicate a deadly virus. However, the virus eventually takes over the priest. He nearly dies, but makes a miraculous recovery by an accidental transfusion of vampire blood. He realizes his sole reason for living: the pleasures of the flesh.

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I was interested in Thirst by the mere fact that Park Chan-wook directed it. I was interested to see how a vampire movie by Park would be. Additionally, I really like Song Kang-ho as an actor, and so him playing the lead here interested me greatly. Thirst is one of the most unique vampire movies I’ve seen, it might be a little overloaded with what it tries to do, but overall, I thought it was quite good.

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As I said earlier, Thirst is a unique take on the vampire genre. The film takes many familiar gothic tropes and utilises them and plays around with them in a interesting way. Despite these tropes being quite traditional and the story structure having been used many times before, the film still manages to feel distinct. As a vampire story it stands out, and the transition from human to vampire was told in a compelling way. With that said, calling Thirst merely a vampire movie would be doing it a disservice. It really is a blend of different genres and elements including horror, drama and comedy, with the end result being a gory psychological horror romantic thriller (and even that doesn’t quite do it justice). The story puts the main character in an interesting dilemma as he goes on a very dark journey when he becomes a vampire. The characters are very well developed, especially the two lead characters, and the story is suspenseful. The writing is strong, with sharp and witty dialogue. Thirst is also weirdly funny like some of Park’s other movies, or really a lot of other dark South Korean thrillers in general. There’s a certain level of quirkiness throughout. This movie is filled to the brim with thought provoking themes and complex topics that Park takes on. The movie deals with love, passion, belief, sin and desire, and portrays the darker side of humanity. Also Thirst places at a close second for most passionate and erotic films from Park Chan-wook right behind The Handmaiden (the film’s title of Thirst really does have a double meaning). I will say that it really does feel like Thirst is trying to cover a lot, most of it works but at times it feels like it is trying to handle too much. Thirst is also definitely a slow burn, it’s very deliberately paced and seems to meander early in the movie. It also does feel quite long, and potentially it could’ve been a little shorter.

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Another strong aspect of the movie is the performances, which are fantastic. Song Kang-ho gives a stellar performance as the lead character of a priest in crisis who becomes a vampire who struggles to hold onto his urges. Song Kang-ho embraces all the emotions his character is going through, and convincingly conveys all the conflicts that he has over the course of the movie. It’s not just him however, Kim Ok-bin also excels in the role of a housewife who goes through her own transformation into someone very different from where she started. It was thrilling to watch and was convincingly done, she really shines in the second half especially. The chemistry between the two were good, their dynamic was one of the shining points of the movie. These characters are complex and feel human, helped both by the writing and acting.

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Park Chan-wook directs this, and it’s no surprise that it’s so great on a technical level. There are some gorgeous visuals, with great cinematography and camerawork, and the set and costume designs are top notch. Also worth noting is that despite this being a vampire movie, Thirst has the recurrent colour of blue across the movie instead of red. There are some hallucinations at certain points in the movie and they are filmed quite creatively. There are lots of blood as to be expected given it’s a vampire movie and one directed by Park, and the effects are really good. The editing and the score round out the rest of the technical elements and are great in their own rights.

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Thirst may be a bit long and try to tackle a little too much thematically, but on the whole it’s a great and unique take on vampires, and a great psychological romantic horror thriller. Park Chan-wook directs it excellently, the story is engaging and has a lot going on, and the lead performances from Song Kang-ho and Kim Ok-bin are fantastic. If you like vampire movies, horror movies and/or Park Chan-wook movies, I highly recommend checking it out.

I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006) Review

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I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK

Time: 107 Minutes
Cast:
Rain as Park Il-soon
Im Soo-jung as Cha Young-goon
Director: Park Chan-wook

After his bloody `revenge’ trilogy, Korean director Park Chan-Wook directs this deliriously daft rom-com. Young-goon (Im Soo-jung) works in a maddening dead-end job making transistor radios. Flipping, she insists she is a cyborg and that she only needs to lick batteries for sustenance. She is sent to a psychiatric ward where she is befriended by schizophrenic kleptomaniac Il-Sun (Rain). The two damaged souls fall in love.

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I first heard of this movie from it’s very distinct and weird title, which definitely made it stand out. Then I heard that Park Chan-wook directed it which interests me, the movies I had seen from him are great, and I never heard of I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK before. I decided to check it out for Park’s involvement alone. It definitely wasn’t what I expected, and while I don’t love it, I do think it’s quite good.

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This movie is basically a romantic comedy that takes place in a mental hospital and about a girl who thinks she’s a cyborg, and much of the movie spends time with her going out with another patient. The story is not unfamiliar, focusing on humans who are longing to connect in a world of malnourished relationships. It’s definitely the lightest of Park’s movies if only because of how dark all his other movies are. With that said still, it does have some Park elements, a little bit of revenge and some darker moments. It is a very quirky and bizarre movie, absurd, creative and with a lot of humour, yet heartfelt and sensitive. It does have quite a bit of charm to it, and it’s like if you mixed Amelie with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and it was directed by Wes Anderson. Most the characters in the movie are confirmed to be insane and are largely impossible to identify with, but they are still fully realised and complex characters. Something interesting is that compared to other similar movies, it’s less focused on these people escaping or trying to find sanity, instead focusing more on them accepting themselves, trying to find happiness and carry on. Whether you like this film depends on if you like atmospheric films and if you like the atmosphere of this particular film. Quite frankly, not a lot happens plot wise even when stuff does happen. The story was the characters, so your enjoyment also depends on how engaged you are with the characters. To be honest, the movie doesn’t connect with me that much. It does try to be whimsical very hard, and the quirks weren’t enough to keep me engaged. The humour wasn’t quite my thing either and didn’t always work for me. The movie is just following two idiosyncratic characters in a mental institution doing their own things for 90 minutes and that wasn’t enough for me. The characters don’t do a lot other than being weird and I wasn’t particularly interested in them. It is also a little too cartoony and light to actually get into it (surprising really). I will however give credit to the portrayal of mental health patients in this movie, they aren’t victimised or villainised. Despite being an absurd and quirky comedy, they display them in a somewhat serious way.

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Generally I thought the acting was good. The highlights were the leads in Im Soon-jung and Rain playing the roles of Cha Young-goon and Park Il-soon respectively, the former being a woman who believes to be a cyborg, and the latter a patient who is a thief. They both do great jobs in the lead roles and have a comfortable and believable chemistry in the forefront.

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Park Chan-wook is a great director and once again his work is great here. The technical aspects definitely help the movie work as well as it does. There was a lot of energetic and creative work behind the camera, with some stellar cinematography. The use of colour was fantastic, and the production design was stellar. The fantasy sequences definitely go all out and are very fantastical and over the top, which is fitting considering that most of the movie takes place from Young-goon’s perspective and mindset. Finally, the score is great and really fits the movie well.

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I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK is currently my least favourite film from Park Chan-wook but it’s by no means a bad movie. It’s acted well, its charming and I’m glad I watched it. I guess it just wasn’t for me, I wasn’t as invested with the story and characters as I would’ve liked, maybe I just prefer Park when he’s doing darker movies. The movie isn’t quite for everyone, if you’re not a big fan of movies with any degree of quirkiness, I’m not sure you’ll get into this one. However if you like any of Park’s other movies I do think it is at least worth checking out.

The Handmaiden (2016) Review

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The Handmaiden

Time:  145 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language and sex scenes
Cast:
Kim Min-hee as Lady/Izumi Hideko
Kim Tae-ri as Maid/Nam Sook-hee
Ha Jung-woo as Count Fujiwara
Cho Jin-woong as Uncle Kouzuki
Director: Park Chan-wook

With help from an orphaned pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri), a Korean con man (Ha Jung-woo) devises an elaborate plot to seduce and bilk a Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) out of her inheritance.

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I had heard so many people highly praising The Handmaiden. I decided to check it out based on that alone, not really knowing much about the movie outside of the fact that Park Chan-wook directed it. Overwhelming fantastic is how I would describe the movie. Virtually every element of this is phenomenal, and it was amazing to watch.

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The writing is admirable and impressive, with a twisty, clever and unpredictable script. It is intricate, methodical and quite complex, but also enthralling and by the end satisfying. The plot starts off simple enough with the plot following a pick pocketer posing as a handmaiden for a wealthy heiress as part of a con. Over time however, this plot develops into something bold and quite different from how it starts, it subverts expectations throughout and it wasn’t what I expected at all. This character driven plot is engaging, constantly turning and heightening. I went into this movie blind and that was the best way to approach this. I won’t talk too much about the story so you can experience it for yourself. To just classify it as a con artist film would be really selling it short, there’s so much that happens in this movie. This film has a lot of elements to it, it’s tonally all over the place but finds cohesion and balance among everything that’s here. There’s strong drama, with dark thriller (almost horror) elements throughout. However, there’s a lot of dark humour mixed in, and The Handmaiden also really is a love story. Something noteworthy about the movie is the non-linear structure, which keeps you guessing about how it would progress, and changes your perception of the events of the movie. By the time you reach the end of the first third, you’ll know that you’re watching something special. The movie is slower paced and long, but the way the plot reveals its secrets is what makes the almost 2 hours and 30 minute runtime fly by. The Handmaiden is also an erotic thriller, with a large amount of sensuality and sexuality which can be a bit overbearing at times, yet that aspect is also really handled well surprisingly. The film doesn’t start off being that crazy like some of Park’s other movies but make no mistake, it is a wild movie from beginning to end.

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On top of the writing, the performances are terrific as well and make this already fantastic movie even better. The highlights are the leads in Min-hee Kim and Kim Tae-ri, who share some great chemistry, and with their relationship being in the forefront of the movie. The characters are quite complex and interesting, especially in Kim Tae-ri’s wealthy heiress character.

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Park Chan-wook directs this film, and I think that this might be his best work. I think that this movie is pretty much perfect on a technical level. Every moment feels deliberate, patient and fully realised. The cinematography is gorgeous and mesmerising, every shot is masterfully framed and set up. The costumes and production designs are well detailed and exquisite and feel accurate to the time period the film is set in. The editing is also strong, with particularly some really good transitions. Finally the score from Jo Yeong-wook is relaxing, tender and fantastic as well. All around, it is a technically masterful film.

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The Handmaiden is excellent and arguably Park Chan-wook’s best film. Near perfect from start to finish, the story and writing is complex and subversive, the acting is wonderful, and the direction is absolutely stellar. It is genuinely one of the most finely crafted movies I’ve seen, and one that I want to revisit.

Wide Awake (1998) Review

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Wide Awake

Time: 88 minutes
Cast:
Denis Leary as Mr. Beal
Dana Delany as Mrs. Beal
Joseph Cross as Joshua A. Beal
Rosie O’Donnell as Sister Terry
Timothy Reifsnyder as Dave O’Hara
Robert Loggia as Grandpa Beal
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

A fifth grader (Joseph Cross) goes on a search for God after his grandfather (Robert Loggia) dies. Along the way he gets into tons of trouble at Waldron Academy an all-boys school.

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Most people first learned about M. Night Shyamalan upon the release of The Sixth Sense, which became an instant hit and the point where his career took off. What most people don’t know is that The Sixth Sense wasn’t his directorial debut but rather his third movie, having made two prior movies that not many people heard of with Praying with Anger and Wide Awake. Both are pretty hard to gain access to, but I managed to watch the latter. Being overshadowed by later films aside, there’s also a good reason why Wide Awake is not really heard of. Despite being made in 1995 (and written in 1991), Harvey Weinstein basically buried the film’s release with the distribution, and was not released until 1998 (1 year before The Sixth Sense was released). Honestly I wasn’t expecting much based off the premise, although I was interested to see how Shyamalan started before his first hit. The movie wasn’t actually that bad, although I wouldn’t call the movie good either.

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The premise of Wide Awake does sound like a premise of a lifetime movie about religion, and much of the actual movie feels like that. With that said, the premise did have potential, it could’ve been about exploring grief from perspective of a child. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really do anything interesting. The movie consists of the main kid trying to speak with God, having doubts and then something makes him believe again. Most of the time the movie is spent at the catholic school and at his home with occasional flashbacks of him hanging out with his grandfather. The themes were heavy handed with no subtlety at all. Not that every movie needs to feature their themes in a subtle way but for this topic it needed to be handled with a degree of nuance. However this is a movie where the main character literally Googles “Who’s God?”. The subject matter is presented clumsily and overly sentimental, with a whole lot of cheese. It never reaches a level of profoundness. The journey of the lead character’s search for God and answers isn’t particularly interesting. Spoiler alert, it pretty much ends up with “God works in mysterious ways”. It’s a very bland movie with very little surprises, and the characters and writing feel rather fake. The writing for the children especially doesn’t actually feel like what children that age would do or say. Despite aiming to be touching and moving, ultimately it feels rather hollow and doesn’t really leave any impact. Even the attempts at humour fall flat. Despite how bland the story was, in some ways I found the movie weirdly interesting in some of the odd choices it made. It especially felt odd that this 10 year old kid is having this desire to find God, so it was somewhat intriguing at first to see what they would do next. However by the time it reached the third act, I wasn’t into it any more. One way it does feel like a Shyamalan film is a twist at the end, which was certainly a weird choice to make that really didn’t add anything to the movie.

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The acting is nothing special, it’s functional and not bad, but nothing really worth mentioning. Generally, the acting of the children was surprisingly okay for the most part, the writing for them however is weird because some of these 10 year olds speak with so much self-awareness that it’s unbelievable. Joseph Cross does relatively well in his part of the lead character. Nothing much to say about the adult actors, I will say that despite Rosie O’Donnell being on the cover art of the film, her character of a baseball loving nun basically doesn’t have much involvement with the plot.

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As I said earlier, M. Night Shyamalan directs Wide Awake, and there is basically no hint of Shyamalan from this one movie. He’s definitely still learning as a filmmaker and it does have some technical missteps. There is so much voiceover throughout, with the main character constantly giving internal exposition about the past and his feelings. It can get overbearing and annoying really quickly. The cutesy and quirky score can get a little annoying too. On the whole though it is competently made, some shots are nicely composed, and I wouldn’t say it’s a badly directed movie.

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Honestly the most interesting part of the movie is the fact that M. Night Shyamalan made it at all. That is probably what kept me somewhat patiently staying with this movie, without his name attached I probably would’ve given up on it earlier on. That aside, it’s a very mediocre yet harmless Hallmark movie that’s quite forgettable. I would actually put this as one of Shyamalan’s worst movies, though keep in mind I only dislike a few of his movies. Wide Awake is honestly not worth checking out unless you’re interested in seeing how he started as a filmmaker.