I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)
You know what they say, don't go fighting monsters or one day you'll find yourself smashing a man's genitals with household objects. After an ill advised venture into the films of Kim Ji-woon via second rate actioner The Last Stand and mixed bag Western mash up The Good, The Bad, The Weird; I finally got around to seeing a better received entry in his back catalogue - and it didn't disappoint. Part horror, part revenge thriller and even a little of the darkest of comedy; a government agent goes on a quest to punish a serial killer - both mentally and physically. It's a bizarre and emotive ride that jumps from grim torturous horror to strangely satisfying moments of vengeance - and one that never quite decides who the bigger monster is.
Like many of the extreme Korean movies it's also very eye catching to look at, while being equally eye watering in how nasty things get. The mixture of tone actually works as an advantage as the story goes through moments of grief and madness. However there are some strange plot devices - particularly the tracker planted to follow the murderer - even if it adds to the surreal nightmare atmosphere and allows for some good cat and mouse moments. The two leads play off each other well - the cold inner rage of the hero versus the grotesque extrovert desires of his quarry - and at times you feel pity on both of their behalves. It does take a while to build momentum particularly in the early stages before the protagonists plan has crystalised; but once things are moving they don't let up. The "journey into hell" is as gripping as it is repugnant and maybe even a little funny too, though you might feel bad for laughing.
It feels like a long time since the so called Vengeance Trilogy had everyone talking about hammer fights and octopus for dinner, but perhaps it's just as I had been out of the loop. Another overdue viewing, it's one I ultimately found unsatisfying despite some striking imagery and interesting ideas. There are a lot of good elements here - the strange mix of religion and vampirism, the juxtaposition of a reborn savior feeding on the helpless, and the eventual madness and guilt; but it never clicked for me. It's kind of unbalanced like some of the characters turn out to be.
Perhaps it's the structure which felt too unpolished or a little messy early on. The hero is a man of god who becomes a creature of the night after a hospital experiment to find cures to a fatal illness. Initial scenes where he is choosing to give himself to medicine and the subsequent parts where he comes back to the world and visits his past acquaintances... they just come across as unfocused with odd bits thrown together. It gets a lot better once the vampire affair gets going and things become stranger and more imaginative - particularly when the romance starts to become more sinister and the early facade of innocence breaks down - but the first half left me waiting too long. Un-quenched.
TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008)
Where to even begin - the surreal semi-future world full of strange Robocop style commercials? The criminals that sprout weapons and gadgets from their wounds? The merciless samurai cops with a pop star in central control? It's difficult to describe and perhaps something best left to be discovered. In what is apparently a future Japan (but only hinted at), the police are now a privatised militia who execute people for minor crimes. Among them are special units who hunt down a new breed of murderous criminals dubbed "Engineers" who for reasons explained later (though not exactly sensible ones) have a tumour inside that causes their injuries such as dismembered limbs, to grow into instant weapons like swords and guns - and that's just amongst the more restrained ideas the movie throws out.
Apparently this genre is known as gore punk or sometimes Ero Guro... and it's ridiculous. The cult cinema of Japan should by now hold no surprises to me after all, and despite this being somewhere in the vein of Tetsuo: The Iron Man, I still found myself laughing and the sheer lunacy of some of the sequences. The line between cinema and manga is incredibly blurred. It's at times incomprehensible but often on a greatly entertaining level, check it out if you can stomach the idea of a fine blend of flying body parts of all kinds, crazy fetish clubs and acid firing mutants.