Earlier this year, Tartan Asia Extreme released Oldboy, a very good film that was actually the second chapter in a "revenge trilogy" from director Chan-wook Park. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, filmed and released overseas first but theatrically released after Oldboy in the United States, is actually the first chapter.
While Oldboy is some kind of masterpiece, this one is a sloppy, scattered, sadistic tale that has some great ideas, but they never really come together. A deaf and dumb man looks to get a kidney for his sick sister, so he agrees to donate his own ineligible kidney to the black market in order to get one that can be used in return. The bastards take his kidney and life savings then run, leaving him naked with one less organ and no dough. The man then kidnaps a wealthy executive's daughter to get ransom money to buy a kidney, and the kidnapping plot goes bad.
The kidnapping victim's father seeks revenge on the deaf and dumb man, while the deaf and dumb man seeks revenge on the kidney stealers. The two will eventually crash in a finale that is quite disgusting.
Sound stupid? It is, but there are hints of Park's eventual genius throughout the film. He has a visually stunning style and a pretty good sense of humor. While that dark humor is very inappropriate in this film, Oldboy turned out to be a better display for it.
Chapter three, Lady Vengeance, has already been completed and is due in the U.S. for 2006.
Special Features: Tartan is doing a good job with DVDs, and this one is no exception. Park provides a commentary, which you will need to help sort things out, as the plot is very convoluted. There are some behind-the-scenes docs, and a first look at Lady Vengeance, which does look interesting.
While Ran wasn't Akira Kurosawa's last film, it stands as his final masterpiece and contains some of the more startling imagery of the master director's career.
Based on Shakespeare's King Lear, Kurosawa took that plot, changed the three sisters to sons and changed the main villain to a woman. The basic premise surrounding the king is similar: Hidetora, an elderly warrior, bequeaths his throne to his older son, pisses off the other siblings and starts a civil war. Distraught over the hell he has unleashed, Hidetora wanders the countryside mad and clueless while his family falls apart. He even has his fool, who provides comic relief and music as the character did in Shakespeare's play.
Blood doesn't just run red in this film; it spurts forth from torsos like geysers and flows like a river from fallen soldiers. Kurosawa wasn't afraid to show an arterial spurt or two, and this film has one that splashes an entire white wall.
As for imagery, bright colors distinguishing soldiers as they clash is a genius stroke. Kurosawa was a master of realistic battle scenes, and if you look closely, you can see stuntmen falling off their horses and trying to remain still as they are partially trampled. The film's most amazing moment would be when Hidetora emerges from a large castle as it burns behind him. The actor (Tatsuya Nakadai) continues to look forward as he descends a giant staircase. Kurosawa only got one take as the set couldn't be rebuilt, so Nakadai could not slip and fall. He doesn't.
Look at this as a samurai apocalypse film. The presence of modern firearms taking out soldiers armed with swords shows how technology would render the samurai obsolete.
Special Features: Another Criterion triumph, with two discs and a ton of movie background. Nakadai sits down for a recent interview, giving his take on working with Kurosawa. Film scholar Stephen Prince provides commentary, and he knows the director well. A 35-minute film shows the paintings Kurosawa did to map out his film, and a 74-minute film about Kurosawa keeps things informative. There's also a half-hour doc on the making of Ran, a sweet collectible booklet and more. Insane.
The only reason this 1989 filming of the brilliant late comedian Bill Hicks doesn't get an A is the director's moronic insistence upon putting strange black-and-white, slow-motion footage into the proceedings. He's trying to stylize the admittedly static visual of a guy standing on stage telling jokes, but it winds up being a distraction.
Hicks was a marvel who died in 1994 at the age of 32. This guy was the nastiest comedian out there, and if you don't believe me, just take in his routine about George Michael and Rick Astley. Lord God, this guy had a bone to pick.
The quality of the film is poor, but the comedy is unbelievably funny. This stuff is 16 years old, but Hicks was ahead of his time, and it feels like it could've been recorded yesterday.
Special Features: Some cool archival stuff, including Hicks in full Elvis regalia while lampooning The King.