It appears these days the only movies that seem to captivate or spark my creative imagination is World Cinema. And anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty big on Asian cinema and more importantly Korean cinema. I just feel that they are aloud to go the extra step in comparison to Hollywood. Oldboy (2005) was directed by my personal favourite Park Chan-wook and The Chaser (2008) was directed by first time director Na Hong-jin. Both movies are being transferred to the Western audience: The Chaser has been picked up by the makers of The Departed whilst Oldboy he been picked up by Spielberg with Will Smith playing the lead. I won’t even go there.
But upon watching both movies I thought about there similarities and differences which I will go through in an attempt to interest you the reader into seeing them before and if indeed they are remade.
I’ll start chronologically, Oldboy tells the story of Oh Dae-su, who is captured on the night of hi daughters birthday and imprisoned for fifteen years in what appears to be a shabby hotel. He is given a bed, a toilet and a television which becomes his whole world. Be begins to attempt suicide before eventually training his body and teaching himself his own sloppy martial arts. After his lengthy time he wakes up in a suitcase on a rooftop left to seek revenge on his kidnappers in the streets of Seoul in South Korea.
The Chaser on the other hand follows tells a tale again on the streets of Seoul. This time follows Eom Jung-ho a detective turned pimp on the hunt for someone who he suspects have been selling his ‘girls’ but instead there is more sinister work at play as Jung-ho is soon to find out. The tag line sets the movie up perfectly “In 60 minutes he found the killer, in 12 hours he must find the next victim.” As Jung-ho learns more and more he finds himself becomes a detective again working with the Seoul police department on and off to find Mi-jin who is at the mercy of her kidnapper.
So with that out of the way, here is what I thought about the movies. I wanna first say I really enjoyed them both. And the fact people have taken interest in the west to remake them it shows how popular they are. I first heard about Oldboy in an advertisement in a movie magazine. I haven’t seen anything from Korea and from the poster I was enticed by something which I to this day do not know. I bought it and was thrown into a culture I had not seen previously. A tragedy so dark it would make Shakespeare spin in his grave. After seeing the rest of Park’s back catolog I have not become an avid fan on Korean cinema and actor Song Kang-ho (The Host, JSA, Thirst). I have blogged about Park Chan-wook before so check it out for further information. Oldboy is about the psyche of man who had everything and was striped of it, “Oldboy is a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare” Ebert mentioned in his review (which I will mention for both films).
Now even though I complement the movie I must say it is certainly not for the weak stomached. There is visceral horror like for example someone being tortured by pulling teeth with a rusty hammer, but also with plot developments which I won’t go into. To add to that Choi Min-sik, the actor who plays Dae-su, is Buddhist but in one awkwardly disturbing scene towards the beginning decides to eat a squid live. I mention his religious background because they used real squid and had to ask for forgiveness before eating them in such a grotesque spectacle. I don’t enjoy or accept animal cruelty in movies and I even believe that that scene is one of the most brutal in which I have to skip or look away.
In Ebert’s review of the movie he consistently notes how much he enjoyed the movie and with the violence and graphic scenes with statement such as “Oldboy ventures to emotional extremes, but not without reason.” And I totally agree and it’s this which makes it stand out from most modern thrillers which focus on governmental conspiracies and explosions.
I believe the same could be said about The Chaser with some diversions. In Ebert’s review of the movie he did enjoy it as well hailing it as “a poster child for what a well-made thriller looked like in the classic days.” He noted that the chases in The Chaser are realistic as we feel like the characters do as they stop to breath - “There are no supermen and no sensational stunts. When the actors run, we see that they are running.” This adds to the grit the film has. In Oldboy there is a sequence which is my favourite fight scene in any movie and involves Dae-su with a hammer fighting fifty men in a narrow corridor all shot with one long take and not editing needed.
It’s is gritty edge in both films which feels more authentic and realistic. In Oldboy there are dream like sequences and more ‘out there’ sections but over all the possibilities of events happening are quit possibly and scary.
My only problem with The Chaser [*Possible Spoiler Alert*] is something I don’t believe Ebert didn’t pick up on. And that would be the misogyny. Granted the movie is about a prostitute murderer however through out I feel the women are treated weaker then their male counter parts. All the infliction of severe pain happens to women excluding one male death. I hope it was not an intentional move by the director by I thought it wasn’t. Some distressing scenes happen in which a man inflicts pain on a woman several times with various tools, whilst the men in the film chase and punch each other only to later be ready for round two.
I would be hard pushed to say which movie is better and if you take Rotten Tomatoes as the stand point then Oldboy is the winner. However over all as a piece I thought The Chaser is more consistent. Oldboy is fully of brilliant scenes and I can see why it received a lot of attention in the West. As the title state on the DVD for The Chaser “I urge you to see it” and the same applies for Oldboy.