Revenge is a dish served repetitively in Kim Jee-woon’s baroque, bludgeoning thriller. Whether it’s best served that way is another matter.
A keen stylist and genre-hound, Kim aced ghosts in A Tale Of Two Sisters and cowboys in The Good, The Bad, The Weird. But his gory entry into South Korea’s avenger sub-genre – following Park Chan-wook’s sick-pics – puts savagery before substance.
Initially, the cast reel us in. Emphasising Park parallels, Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik is indelibly feral as Kyung-chul, a school bus driver who kills women.
Unluckily for him, his latest victim’s fiancé is top cop Soohyeon (the pretty but intense Byung-hun), who isn’t satisfied by catching Kyung-chul: instead torturing him, releasing him, tracking him by GPS then torturing him again in a sickening game of cat-and-mouse.
Making scant sense plot-wise, its filmic function lies in giving Kim carte blanche to max the mayhem: cue bashed bollocks, mashed heads and lashed tendons. Strong stomachs are required, though Kim’s fluent direction aims for art over exploitation.
A greenhouse dust-up is ferocious yet lush; a knife fight is contained yet explosive. Bursts of black wit are judiciously dished, as when a doctor advises a busted-up Kyung-chul to play football more gently.
But as pain gets administered, the payback seems insufficient, with Kim resorting to desperate tonal lurches. Subtextual blows, mainly ‘revenge corrupts’, land like afterthoughts.
Granted, a film this well-made won’t bore. But as the blood thickens and the plot thins, our sympathies finally revert to the woman who implores Soo-hyeon: “This is meaningless. Please stop it.”
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Half engrossing, half just gross, Kim’s revenge epic is all form over content. The style dazzles, but just think what he could do with a decent script.