+ "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance": "’Vengeance will never be mistaken for ‘Broadcast News,’ and it’s
guaranteed to prompt the usual style-over-substance and
exploitation-posing-as-art complaints,’" drawls Matt Zoller Seitz of this first installment of Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy ("Oldboy," the second film, was released first here in the US). And he’s right, and he and La Manohla make an interesting point/counterpoint on the subject. Ms. Dargis devoted much of her "Oldboy" review to this topic:
The fact that ”Oldboy” is embraced by some cinephiles is symptomatic of a bankrupt, reductive postmodernism: one that promotes a spurious aesthetic relativism (it’s all good) and finds its crudest expression in the hermetically sealed world of fan boys.
Though she’s kinder to "Mr. Vengeance" ("At least initially, Mr. Park seems to be grasping at some kind of larger meaning with his beautifully framed images, frenzied violence and vague nods at Korean politics"), ultimately she still doesn’t buy Park’s talk of his films as great, warped morality plays, finding the film merely a beautifully made exploitation flick.
Seitz, in a very interesting review, finds the film the director’s best: "one of the most savagely intelligent movies of recent times…the violence in a Park film rarely seems to have been devised solely to
shock audiences, provoke censors or achieve a savagely decorative
Every person who commits violence in a Park film is convinced he’s
righteous, but the righteousness is arrived at through a tortuous
series of rationalizations that collapse as the story unfolds and the
bodies keep piling up (the Macbeth effect). Neither antagonist ever
really manages to step outside his passion and see himself as anything
but the righteous, driven hero of his own personal epic. Park’s
characters are locked in their own fevered heads, ruled by desperation
and grievance. But the filmmaker exercises his prerogative to step
outside and adopt a more detached, dispassionate view of events. The
tension between subjective and objective filmmaking techniques makes
‘Vengeance’ darkly humorous. What’s funny about Park’s filmography isn’t
the violence itself, which is depicted as grotesquely childish and
deeply traumatic, but our realization that the universe has no opinion
We haven’t seen "Mr. Vengeance" yet, though we very well might this weekend, but in terms of "Oldboy," we fell somewhat more towards the Dargis side of the scale â€” most of it seemed like some glorious exercise in over-the-top noir. But that first half-hour or so! That was something quiveringly vital and exciting, a promise the rest didn’t live up to, but that had us riveted. We’re sure Park has an entire good film in him somewhere (not counting "J.S.A.," which was excellent but not on the path of his apparently cinematic obsessions) â€” maybe someday he’ll make it.
Of this week’s Reverse Shot trio, Brad Westcott begins by discussing the film in terms of Tarantino, apologizes for this Anglo-centrism, then continues with it (hee). He and Karen Wilson were thrilled by it, Nick Pinkerton found the film "roundly competent" while not feeling quite as fond. And James Crawford focuses on the film as social critique, which for him lends it weight:
No director diagnoses the dolorous underbelly of contemporary Korea as perceptively as Park, who examines a nation reeling from economic free fall: unemployed masses, unmoved (and even bemused) employers, Seoul blanketed in shantytowns of which the upper class is blissfully unaware, and hospitals treating only those who can pay. Though deserving of retribution, Ryu acts out of a deterministic miasma of human indifferenceâ€”precisely why there is sympathy for this avenger.
+ "Red Eye": "What a treat," chortles David Edelstein. And everyone else is pretty happy too about Wes Craven‘s return to old-school form with a taut thriller mostly set on (dreadful!) a crowded overnight flight. "Craven plays us like an orchestra of violins, and most of the fun comes
from our own recognition that we’re responding exactly as he wants us
to. We fall for his tricks, and then laugh at ourselves for doing so —
punk’d! ‘Red Eye’ doesn’t just stick to the basics — it reminds us why
they still matter," says Stephanie Zacharek.
Much of the film’s apparently success stems from it’s stars, bright young things Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy. Murphy gets particularly attention; he is: "right on the border between dreamboat and spooky freak" (Edelstein); "enough of a picture-perfect villain here that his agent should worry about typecasting" (Manohla Dargis); "both innocently newborn and barroom dissolute" (Zacharek); and "a deliciously foppish villain" (Dennis Lim). Though Zacharek also points out that "his lips are almost as pillowy as [McAdams’] are," and Dargis that "the rather more robust Ms. McAdams appears as if she could take Mr. Murphy down on the count of three." Mostly, everyone agrees that the film is fulfills its modest aims perfectly, a great B movie that might even be slyly subversive â€” Lim gets the last word:
If anything, given its gently misanthropic view of the general populace
as rude, pushy, self-absorbed Dr. Phil readers, "Red Eye" could even be
called anti-Americanâ€”a parable on the horrors of flying coach, from one
red state to another.