Rating: 4 Stars
Well, you have to give this film credit. It certainly doesn’t pander to the audience and leave you with a good feeling. Extra points for that.
This is a grim story of revenge. A man is taken and held in captivity for fifteen years. Once he escapes, he vows revenge on the man that imprisoned him. In turn, the man that actually imprisoned him has in mind that the actual fifteen years of imprisonment is simply the first step on the way to a much more horrifying and satisfying revenge.
The captive man, Dae-su Oh, is the protagonist. You feel for him as he nearly goes insane while captivated and you’re wishing him success on his path to understand why he was held captive and then wreak his revenge for his many years of suffering.
His counterpart, Woo-jin Lee, the source of his confinement, is the smoothly oily handsome man that is always at least a couple of steps in front of him and is stage managing every development in the plot.
As is often in movies like this where someone has been out of circulation and needs to re-integrate back into normal society, there is a young woman, Mi-do, who first sympathizes with Dae-su Oh, later begins to help him, and ultimately falls in love with him.
At the end, after expecting some great wrong that Dae-su Oh committed to Woo-jin Lee, it turns out that, while in high school, he inadvertently discovered and then passed on as a rumor something about Lee’s sister that ultimately brought about her death. Lee, not willing to accept blame for his role in her death (a big role, I might add), has spent his life preparing for revenge upon Oh.
In a more typical movie, you’d expect Lee to be foiled by Oh, but pretty much everything goes exactly the way Lee planned it. The very small measure of revenge that Oh gets is because now that Lee has avenged himself, Lee has nothing left to live for, so he kills himself.
The movie is very violent and bloody, but much of the violence is stylized. For example, there’s a huge fight scene in a hallway (a four minute scene filmed in one take), but it’s filmed from an angle that is reminiscent of a video game.
There were several actual cringe inducing moments where I really didn’t want to watch. The ants crawling under Oh’s skin, teeth being extracted with a claw hammer, and Oh chopping his own tongue off as a sign of subservience to Lee (like I said, Lee pretty much wins here) were three deeply disturbing scenes.
It turns out that Mi-do is actually Oh’s daughter and Lee has manipulated events with hypnosis to make them fall into love with each other. After Lee’s death, Oh tracks down the hypnotist and she agrees to hypnotize him again so that he forgets that Mi-do is his daughter.
After the last hypnosis session, Mi-do and Oh meet and embrace as two lovers. The camera stays close on Oh as an expression of sheer joy lights up his face. As the camera stays on him, his face changes from joy to something approaching horror. Did the hypnosis not work? We don’t know because the film ends on that note.
For being a horror / action movie, there is a lot of unpredictable and thought provoking things going on, so it really is a cut above the average. It was disturbing and a wrenching viewing experience.
That was pretty clear the intent, so…mission accomplished!