In honor of the release of Stoker, the English-language debut of Park Chan-Wook, the Sie FilmCenter is hosting a retrospective of the South Korean filmmaker's revenge series, starting tonight with the first entry in Chan-Wook's trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. The series continues tomorrow with Oldboy; despite (or perhaps because of) its outré freakiness, it remains Chan-Wook's most popular film in the West (Spike Lee is slated to film an American remake). See also: - Denver's Best Movie Theater 2012, Denver Film Center/Colfax - A Conversation with Thirst director Park Chan-wook - Lucky '13: Keith Garcia, programming manager for the Sie FilmCenter
On Wednesday night, the FilmCenter is screening Lady Vengeance. A hypnotic film with elliptical narrative abstractions, Lady Vengeance is Chan-Wook's purest distillation of the trilogy's theme: that the drive to seek revenge against malefactors who steal kidney-transplant money or frame innocents for their own crimes is understandable, even natural, but nevertheless spiritually ruinous for the seeker.
"We're so excited for Park Chan-Wook's foray into American film with the upcoming Stoker that we wanted to show his most iconic films and get fans, and folks who have never seen his work, excited as well," says Keith Garcia, programming director for the Denver Film Society.
And why focus on Chan-Wook's vengeance trilogy rather than a full-on retrospective of his entire oeuvre? "It's these films that truly show his style and talent for storytelling," explains Garcia. And Film Society members as well as local cinephiles seem to agree. "The fans of the Watching Hour, our neo-cult program on Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m., are always dropping his name," Garcia says. "We've shown the trilogy before in the Watching Hour, so I guess folks just can't get enough!"
"He has an insanely dramatic flair that speaks above the subtitles," Garcia adds. "It's a delicious tone of intrigue with just the right peppering of violence and evil that makes for a sauce that has hints of old Hitchcock and Welles."
Indeed, there's almost a South Korean funhouse mirror held up to Western literature and filmmaking in Chan-Wook's films, most notably in Thirst, a film that manages to succeed both as sexy vampire noir and an adaptation of Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin -- and another of Chan-Wook's films that might deserve the Watching Hour treatment sometime in the future.
Programmers love a trilogy, however, and the Denver Film Society is offering a chance for fans to study the films more closely, putting fan favorite Oldboy in context with its companion pieces. "No matter how many times you watch Oldboy, that film is just an orphan without Mr. and Lady Vengeance to take care of it," adds Garcia, painting a verbal picture of a disturbing family dynamic wherein Chan-Wook's traumatized characters are left to care for each other in the aftermath of their self-destructive quests for vindication.
Unlike many other South Korean filmmakers making their English-language debuts -- such as Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil), whose considerable talents were wasted on The Last Stand, an ill-conceived Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback vehicle -- Stoker, which stars Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, looks thematically and aesthetically consistent with his other films. "Having seen Stoker, I think he's going to do just fine here in the States," Garcia concludes.
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Cineastes who attend each screening in the retrospective will receive a free ticket to the Denver premiere of Stoker on March 7.