3 Korean Movies and a Realization

This weekend I made a profound discovery. I realized that the Oscars really suck. Not that I didn’t have misgivings earlier. When stalwarts like Joaquin Phoenix and Edward Norton are snubbed year after year, one tends to become cynical. But I became surer after watching 3 Korean movies over the weekend.

To say that the movies took my breath away would be an understatement. In fact, I’m not even sure if I can describe what I felt like after watching them. Tough task but let me give a try nevertheless.

A Tale of Two Sisters

Thriller is my favorite genre in both movies and literature. Yet, for some reason I kept avoiding this one for years (incredibly stupid of me). Left with no good choice this weekend, I finally gave in and opted for it. As soon as the movie began, I knew this was going to be good.

It is about two sisters who move back with their father and step mother. The elder one is the rebel while the younger one is docile and afraid of the step mother. The step mother takes advantage of this and begins torturing the child. As the movie progresses, you realize the director is taking you into the morbid world of a dysfunctional family. The relationship between the older girl and her father is beyond repair. In one heart wrenching scene, she accuses him of knowing everything and yet doing nothing.

There’s a twist and I’m not going to spoil it for you. But I can assure you that you won’t see it coming. It’s one of the saddest movies I have seen and I can honestly vouch that no Hollywood movie can deal with poignancy and guilt the way this movie does.

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Memories of Murder

As a woman, it’s really not easy to sit through a movie about a serial killer and rapist. But when the movie begins and you see 2 inept investigating officers rounding up invalids, you think it’s probably a dark comedy. Set in the 1980s when South Korea was under a tyrannical rule and the system was corrupt, crimes went unresolved. It was far easier to pin the blame on handicaps and poor laborers than investigating the crime. But suddenly, three officers and the audience are sucked into the horrific scenes of mutilated bodies of young women lying in the meadows.

The obsession to find the real criminal turns this black comedy into an eerie game of cat and mouse chase. As soon as you think the criminal will be caught, you are disappointed by the sudden turn of events.

Watch out for the last scene where one of the investigating officers returns to the scene of first crime and meets a young girl who hints that real criminal might still be lurking around. It’s a brilliantly performed scene that will be hard to get out of your mind.

Disturbing, engaging and depressing, Memories of a Murder sets the mood for audience who do not know how it’s going to end. So while you hope and pray for a resolution, you are faced by grim realities. What makes it more tragic is that it’s based on true events.

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A Bittersweet Life

While googling this one, I found that it has been remade into a Hindi movie that released a few years ago. That one was so sloppy and headache inducing that I thought it’s probably best to skip the original one. Two things changed my mind – Kim Ji Woon and the word revenge that was used to describe it. By the time the movie ended, I realized the Hindi one had almost nothing in common with this masterpiece. It had borrowed the premise and in the process ruined everything that made this movie truly brilliant. Yes, that’s Bollywood for you. Taking the soul out of a movie and turning into a hotchpotch of melodrama and song and dance routine.

A Bittersweet Life is essentially about the right hand man of a gangster whose life changes after he stands up for what’s right. He is tortured by the rival gang, while his own boss who he ‘worked for like a dog’ leaves him to die. He comes back with revenge on his mind and what follows are multiple gun shots, blood and violence.

What I really loved about this movie was the way the director (Kim Ji Woon) established the loneliness of the central character. He doesn’t even smile until the very end of the film. The fact that they got somebody like Lee Byung-hun, of course makes it easier to get a nuanced performance.

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As I feared, I couldn’t give you even a percent of what I felt like when I watched these Korean masterpieces. I only tried and failed. But if you watch any of these after all, I’ll take satisfaction from the fact that I could at least convince you.

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