Pieta

Pieta

Directed by Kim Ki-duk
Starring: Lee Jung-jin, Jo Min-su
Year: 2012,  Runtime: 104 min.
Genre: Drama, Revenge
Grade: A

 

In the opening scene, we hear before we see, and the sound is that of a whirring machine. A young man on a wheel chair wraps a chain around his neck and clicks the switch on. The next scene features another man – our antihero – masturbating in his sleep, and his facial expression emulates pain not pleasure. His name is Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin), and as he wakes up, we see the industrial city in development through his window, the landscape the modern era ushered in. Kang-do is a debt collector hired by loan sharks, and he is quite good at it thanks to his brutality that knows no limit when collecting money from poor machinists who had to sign an insurance contract when borrowing money. Kang-do mercilessly hurts them until they become handicaps so he can collect money via insurance compensation. Later, we find out that the young man who commits suicide in the opening scene is Kang-do’s another victim.

A mother kneeling down in front of her “son.”

Soon, a woman appears in Kang-do’s solitary existence, and she claims that she is the mother of Kang-do. She says she had to give him up at birth because of her circumstances at the time, but she now wants to be in his life. She is adamant, and through all the abuses Kang-do subjects her to (forcing her to eat his flesh, raping) she persists, and Kang-do starts to feel the mother’s love he never knew and he subconsciously longed for his entire life, and begins to believe her words. The movie pivots on the mystery of her identity: Is she really the mother of Kang-do? We find out two third of the way in, and the tension heightens as it dives toward the climax that will break everyone’s heart. Here, we shouldn’t forget about the significance of the title, “Pieta”.

Actors Jo Min-su & Lee Jung-jin

Winning the Golden Lion award at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, “Pieta” is undoubtedly a superb movie with meticulously constructed storyline that has lasting impression on any careful viewers. It is the gloomiest, saddest, and probably most violent movie I’ve seen so far. To simply call it a tale of revenge is a huge understatement, as it hurls many questions such as: What significance did money take on in this modern, capitalistic society?; What is devil?; Is redemption available for anyone or is it a certain type of luxury?; What is a mother to a son? Can we ever understand what mothers do for their sons and what ignites their love?

Kang-do collects debt from a machinist.

One Jewish proverbs says, “God created mothers because he couldn’t be everywhere taking care of everyone at once.” The movie depicts many characters who are mothers, including the main character, Mi-sun (Jo Min-su), who claims she is the mother of our protagonist, and other mothers whose lives are bereft of any meaning when their sons are gone. Mi-sun’s final words are devastating, and I won’t ruin for the movie by opining what they may mean. Watching “Pieta” is truly a rare movie watching experience, and it can’t be recommended enough. What price are we paying for this modern world full of superfluous comforts and instant pleasures? What is it doing to our human relationship?

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

Director: George Miller
Starring: Thomas Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Year: 2015     Runtime: 2 hours
Genre : Action, Apocalypse, Car-Chase
Grade: A-

 

“My name is Max. The world is fire and blood, and our existence is reduced to a single instinct: survival.” So starts the apocalyptic, road-rage mayhem “Mad Max” Fury Road.” First and foremost, I should mention that the movie’s greatest merit is its decision to delimit its narrative range almost entirely to its setting. If you can understand two words, ‘hope’ and ‘redemption,’ you won’t miss anything as far as the story goes since the rest of the dialogue are mostly barking orders and angry grunts. Spectacular, gripping action scenes are expected in action movies, of course, but the director, George Milliar, focuses on impact and immediacy of the actions –  the car chase debauchery – by doing away with CGI so plaguing action movies nowadays. The run-time is 2 hours long, and about an hour and 40 minutes of it is composed of blood-drenching, adrenaline-pumping car chases which never seem monotone. You would think there are only so much variety in car chase actions, but you will be surprised; “Mad Max” makes “Furious Fast series” look like a teenage couple fumbling to feel each other up whereas “Max” is the most hard-core orgy brought to the screen so far.

“Hope is a mistake.”

The first scene shows us the world composed entirely of rusty yellow; there is nothing but sand and rocks on the horizon. A two headed lizard makes an brief appearance until it is stepped on and eaten by Max (Thomas Hardy). The fate of that lizard mirrors the fate of many human survivors in this lawless world. Max’s lower than lowest baritone voice signals that only the toughest survives in this future. Max is soon captured by albino slave/fighters who live under the tutelage of the warlord aptly named Immortan Joe, and when their fuel rig-truck driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a crewcut female warrior with a prosthetic arm, drives away while delivering the fuel, the deathly chase to hunt her down begins. The stake is higher because Furiosa is taking with her five members of Immortan Joe’s ‘breeders,’ beautiful, young ladies the warload has imprisoned to impregnate.

In order to survive the unrelenting attacks from Immortan Joe’s soldiers, Max and Furiosa have to team up, and the battles take place on the deserted plains, inside the thunderous sandstorm, in the gully of rocky mountains, and even on the swamp. So many different looks of cars, trucks, and motorcycles, so many different uses of weapons , and so many different manners of attack never cease to entertain us. People die off like flies. In the future, the lives become so banal and tenuous that one albino soldier (Nicholas Hoult) shouts on this day of killing, “Such a beautiful day!”

As of this writing, “Mad Max” has received 99% rating on rotten tomatoes, and this is how it should be. “Mad Max” saves the genre from the continual production of jaded action movies that try to wow us through its computer-generated high-wire acts. The only criticism it may entail comes from the improbable nature of certain turnovers. (Surprisingly, all the action scenes are believable; I am referring to a different trope). But it is a minor fault, and the excitement and sheer creativity of battle scenes will make two hour fly by as our heroes of the movie race across the apocalyptic lands amidst the attackers. It surely will be the action movie of the year.

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AntiChrist

Antichrist

Dir: Lars Von Trier
Starring: William Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Run Time: 108 Min.   Year: 2009
Genre: Drama, Horror
Grade: A-

 

Misogyny, self-mutilation, sex, original Sin, gynocide, nature as evil, intrinsic antagonism between men and women: these are some themes the director Lars Von Trier may have harbored in his mind when making the movie, “Antichrist”, but we will never know. All we can do is trying to put together the jigsaw puzzle pieces that are mangled beyond recognition, that even the completed whole will be an ugly mess. Is such a mess the only thing that human life finally comes to be in the end?

“All those things that are to die”

Gainsbourg as She and Dafoe as He

 

 

Only three characters appear here, one of whom dies within five minutes of the movie. The man, known only as He, and the woman, also known only as She, are husband and wife, and when they are making passionate love, their infant son falls out of the building and dies. Their love-making is not life-producing, but life-ending process. What comes after is an unbearable pain, guilt, and depression for She. He is sad too, but not as much as She is, and He tries to cure her, him being a professional therapist and all. The character’s namelessness, of course, signifies that He is a representative of all men since the time immemorial, and She, also, for all women.

“Imagine you’re at Eden”

They retreat deep into forest, where they have a cabin. The place is called Eden, the birth place of Original Sin. Here, everything is demonic: the animals, the weather, the ominous and towering trees enveloping the cabin. We soon find out that She was writing a dissertation on the history of gynocide; violence against women justified by their supposed link to original sin and evil. They have sex, but we cringe as we watch because they want pain, not pleasure, in the process. A physical pain that can overcome the agony of reality. Their conflict becomes murderous, until they pierce, cut, choke, and cums blood.

“Nature is Satan’s church”

Eden

If a film is said to have succeeded when it renders multiple meanings, there is no film greater than “AntiChrist.” It gives us a pure horror, but it seems inadequate to label it a horror film. It sure as hell is not a religious film either. But I stop and ask myself, “what does the title “AntiChrist” truly mean?” I realize that the question we should ask is not ‘what’ is Antichrist, but ‘when’ is antichrist(ic) moment? Is it the moment we give in to nature? Like when we let grief and pleasure over take us? When does the moment of Antichrist occur in this movie? Who, if it can be an embodiment, is the Antichrist, He or She?

Each scene gives an audience much to analyze and interpret. Every scene is carefully choreographed and carved, compounding the symbols that resist simplification. Charlotte Gainsbourg more than deserves the best actress award she received at Cannes for this movie. If you crave a movie that’s challenging, disturbing, and pervertedly sexual, then it is a movie for you.

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