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Prepare for the ‘Oldboy’ Remaster with These Korean Cinema Masterpieces

I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the ‘Oldboy’ for the first time, or the fifteenth time, than on the big screen
%28Courtesy+of+Show+East%29+
(Courtesy of Show East)

 

Director Park Chan-wook’s subversive thriller masterpiece “Oldboy” is being re-released in theaters on Aug. 16 to celebrate its 20-year anniversary. Despite its wide praise, the film is infamous for being hard to watch, as it’s unavailable on streaming services and physical copies are sparse in the United States. To celebrate its upcoming re-release, I wanted to recommend not only the film itself but a few other Korean flicks I believe every film fan should see.

I Saw the Devil (2010)

(Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

This gruesome revenge film may not be for all. Those who delight in testing the limits of their ability to watch stomach-churning images will enjoy the non-stop brutality of “I Saw The Devil”.

The film follows police agent Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun) after his fiancée becomes the victim of a psychopathic killer. Soo-hyeon’s hunt for the murderer soon becomes a dangerous game of cat and mouse as each individual tries to outsmart the other in increasingly painful situations.

By just the synopsis alone, most should know this is not an easy watch. However, those who stick around are treated to an endlessly engaging picture with breakneck pacing and a nail-biting storyline.

Stars Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik are perfect foils for each other. Though viewers remain rooting for Soo-hyeon throughout the runtime, a sense of humanity and moral high ground slowly drains as his desperate determination to torture killer Kyung-chul becomes more and more intense.

On the flip side, while Kyung-chul continues to be a truly despicable character, he becomes far more layered the more time we spend with him. Director and writer Jee-woon Kim keeps the audience thinking, “Well this story can’t get any more messed up than this,” and then repeatedly proves them wrong with cannibals and up-close body horror. “I Saw The Devil” is a must-watch for anyone who thinks they can handle it. Maybe skip the snacks, though. 

The Man From Nowhere (2010)

(Courtesy of CJ Entertainment

Before the expertly choreographed action of the “John Wick” or “Extraction” franchises, director Lee Jeong-beom created an equally thrilling action film “The Man From Nowhere.”

In the movie, Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin) is a lonely pawnshop owner who has found friendship with the little girl next door, Jeong So-mi (Kim Sae-ron). When a gang involved in drug and organ trafficking kidnaps So-mi, Tae-sik is forced to return to his dark past to save her.

In the same way we accept and even root for the violence John Wick inflicts on his enemies in his films, Tae-sik’s destructive path towards rescuing So-mi feels completely earned, possibly even more than in those previously mentioned franchises. The relationship between the child and our quiet hero is immediately endearing as you instantly feel they make each other’s lives better. This is why when So-mi’s life is put in danger by some utterly insidious criminals, you can’t help but jump up and cheer as Tae-sik tears through his enemies.

Where “The Man From Nowhere” departs from the conventions of this fairly common storyline is in its tensions. There’s not a moment where you feel So-mi is safe from her kidnappers, making the pressure of Tae-sik’s journey to save her at a constant high. Of course, the action is masterfully shot and crafted. The final knife fight is no doubt one of the greatest action sequences of all time. The next time you want to watch a genuinely electrifying action film, turn on “The Man From Nowhere.” 

Return to Seoul (2022)

Davy Chou’s deeply thoughtful drama “Return to Seoul” may be a relatively recent release, but an impactful one nonetheless.

(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

After being adopted and raised in France, 25-year-old Freddie (Park Ji-min) returns to her birthplace of South Korea to reconnect with her biological parents.

Freddie, played wonderfully by Ji-min, is not always the most likable of characters but is profoundly human. Though her actions sometimes seem selfish and inconsiderate of the individuals around her, you can’t help but empathize. Ji-min masterfully portrays someone floundering as they try to answer the question, “Who am I?” It’s an, at times, devastatingly relatable situation.

Following Freddie’s journey as she changes over a span of years is equally frustrating and satisfying. Because of this realistic and understandable portrayal of young adult life, you become devoted to following Freddie no matter how much you disagree with her choices.

This personal story is all visualized with some stunning cinematography. The few “music-based” sequences are the standout moments for me. “Return to Seoul” is a film I believe many will find solace in as we all attempt to navigate through the pasts, presents and futures of our complicated lives.

Oldboy (2003)

While I do believe “Oldboy” is one of those films where going in knowing the least information possible is beneficial, I think my short recommendation here shouldn’t detract from the viewing experience.

(Courtesy of Show East)

The film begins when Dae-su Oh (Choi Min-sik) is suddenly released from a cell he’s been forced to live in for 15 years after being abducted. Dae-su will do anything to find out who his capturers are and why they took him.

Like our protagonist, director Park Chan-wook immediately throws the audience into this confusing and absurd situation, leaving viewers feeling lost. Because we share the same footing as our lead, we get to solve the mystery of the film in real time.

There are multiple iconic moments sprinkled throughout whose influence can be seen in all different types of media from the last two decades, including the recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.” “Oldboy” is a trickster of a film, its final deceit forcing the audience to ask how much humanity they would sacrifice in the worst of scenarios. 

I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the film for the first time, or the fifteenth time, than on the big screen. Screenings of the “Oldboy” will be held at Broadway Centre Cinema starting on Aug. 16. You can buy tickets on their website.

 

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@grahamcool8

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About the Contributor
Graham Jones
Graham Jones, Assistant Arts Editor
Graham Jones was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to Utah to study film. Despite his passion for cinema, Graham joined the Chronicle to engage with the University of Utah community and pursue his love for journalism. Outside of the student media office, Graham can be found buried deep into the pages of a graphic novel or lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

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