Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double feature that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but will bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
OLDBOY (2003) and STOKER (2013)
It was the revenge trilogy that forced the name “Park Chan-wook” into every cinephiliac’s conversation in the mid-2000s, and the middle segment that made the trilogy itself a thing of legend. Fifteen years on, Oldboy is as wild, shocking, and (in parts) intentionally hilarious as it was upon its release. Usually, the years dull the sharp edges of the more sensationalist works, but not here. That’s why you’ll need to follow it up with something lighter, and only in Park’s filmography could the violent melodramatic thriller Stoker be considered lighter fare. Park didn’t miss a step as he leapt into English language cinema, directing Aussies Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, and Jacki Weaver in a seductively gothic tale of dysfunctional family and mysterious strangers.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen Oldboy, seek out Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002). Think Oldboy is full-on? Then line your stomach with something sturdy, because its antecedent makes it look like multiplex fodder. Mr Vengeance begins with deaf-mute factory worker losing his job and worrying about how he’s going to find a kidney transplant for his dying sister. And then it gets bleak. If you can’t get or have already seen Stoker, get your hands on The Handmaiden (2016). This erotic psychological thriller (look, that’s what Wikipedia calls it) is one of the most deftly-constructed films of recent memory, with just the right amount of twists and turns, and an astonishingly satisfying ending.
The Hidden Gem: Want to see something off the beaten path, a title rarely mentioned when people talk about the films of Park Chan-wook? Then you should track down Joint Security Area (2000). It’s not a terribly obscure title for Park fans, but given it was released prior to the vengeance trilogy, it may have escaped the attention of many. Which is a shame, because if you can make it through the first act (which admittedly plays like a badly-translated episode of JAG), you’ll find a film that is clever, political, touching, and funny.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Briony Kidd talking the films of Park Chan-wook, will be released on 30 November 2018.