Thursday, March 17, 2011

Two Little Films, One Good & One Bad


I Saw the Devil (2011)
141 min., rated R.
Grade: B

Forced to be recut by the Korea Media Rating Board for its violence, filmmaker Kim Ji-woon's "I Saw the Devil" is a tense, disturbing, brutally violent slasher-revenge opus. The Devil in question isn't literal but instead a serial killer named Kyung-chul (Choi Minsik) who drives an after-school bus and finds pleasure in killing young women. From the frighteningly memorable prologue, Joo-yeon (Oh San-ha) is stranded alongside the road with tire trouble, sitting in her car as the snow falls. The killer asks if she needs help, then bashes her head with a hammer and drags her body to his warehouse. When her severed ear and head turn up, the girl's grief-stricken special agent fiancee, Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun), takes a two-week leave and takes revenge. Instead of just turning him in or killing him in one sit, he makes sure Kyung-chul's pain is beyond terrible. He puts his martial-arts skills to use by beating the monster to a pulp, planting a GPS device in his stomach, and repeating the hunt-and-torment process over and over. A little Achilles tendon slicing is the least of this Devil's worries. But since he's equally psycho-minded as his pursuee, wouldn't that make Soo-hyeon a monster too? 

Asian exploitation films are usually guaranteed to be cruel, grotesque, and beautiful, and "I Saw the Devil" is no different. It turns the torture games on their heads with the cleverly twisted cat-and-mouse storytelling, a nerve-rattling score, and interesting locations from a greenhouse to an empty hotel for the double-trouble characters' duel. Choi is sinister and deranged as the center of evil, and Lee is sleek, dangerous, and ultimately understandable as the “good guy” caught up in evil-doings. About 30 minutes could've been shaved off, but after this one, you'll know what pain and revenge feel like. 

Rubber (2011) 
80 min., rated R.
Grade: C -

French writer-director Quentin Dupieux's horror-comedy "Rubber" defies filling any real category with its absurd, dementedly silly one-of-a-kind premise alone. We get to spend 80 minutes with a tire. A killer tire, rolling its way down the California desert and paving a bloody path for no reason. A satirical primer sets the tone: a lieutenant pops out of a car trunk, breaks the fourth wall, tells us life and even the greatest films follow a philosophy of “no reason,” and describes the film we're about to watch as “an homage to no reason.” Like "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" never showed the characters going to the bathroom or washing their hands, the tire (credited as “Robert”) just up and rises from the sand one sunshiny day and kills anything and anyone (i.e. an empty water bottle, a scorpion), and then uses its psychokinetic powers to blow up harder-to-flatten objects (i.e. a rabbit, motel guests). For no reason. Meanwhile, an all-ages group of spectators with binoculars overlook the tire's massacre from the desert as he stalks and kills people. Again for no reason. And that's the whole film. 

"Rubber" has some blackly comic wit and self-aware deconstruction of other movies in brief moments. Also, a cop's plan to distract the tire with a mannequin and a foreign woman's naughty script reading should rile up a deadpan laugh or two. But what it boils down to is a bizarre experiment that gets no real traction: it doesn't work as either a slasher or slapstick and wears out its welcome long before the halfway point. Dupieux has an amusing concept in theory, but while it might've worked as a short film, his one-joke execution becomes boring, overly cute, and just plain stupid. Really, there's not much reason to see "Rubber." 

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