Thursday, 15 March 2012

Not Quite Hollywood: Vengeance

This is Part 2 of an open-ended series of posts dedicated to less familiar film fare. The first dealt with Prison Movies. Click here to read that.

"Revenge is a dish best served cold." When that Old Klingon Proverb appeared at the beginning of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1, I wasn't quite sure yet that soon I would be hooked on revenge films forever. Maybe it's a product of living in a country where violent crime, vengeance and vigilante justice are part of everyday life, or maybe it's because revenge movies are just so damn satisfying. It's probably the latter, but in actual fact those two reasons are more similar than you may think. Humans are animals, and the lust for vengeance runs strong in all of our blood. An eye for an eye has always been more exciting than turning your left cheek to he who strikes you on the right. My point? Revenge movies rock.

Now, Hollywood has produced its fair share of awesome revenge movies, and I shouldn't need to mention spectacles like the Kill Bills, Inglourious Basterds and Unforgiven. However, foreign shores have done even better (okay nothing is better than Tarantino but you know what I mean). Therefore, it is with great vengeance and furious anger that I urge you to hit the jump and witness ten non-Hollywood revenge movies you need to see when in need of therapy.

IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER, here are my Top 10 Non-Hollywood Revenge Films. You may note the utter domination by the Far East (in particular South Korea). They know how it's done...

1-3. Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance
(South Korea, 2002, 2003, 2005, dir. Chan-Wook Park)

This is the ultimate vengeance trilogy, and should be the point of departure for all vengeance viewing. I'm not going to go into the plot details, but I will say that all these movies are violent, complex, beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted. If you aren't familiar with the movies on this list, start with these.

4. Mother (South Korea, 2009, dir. Joon-Ho Bong)

One of my favourite directors is Joon-Ho Bong. I still need to see his first film, Barking Dogs Never Bite, but Memories of Murder and The Host are among the best film's I've seen. Mother, his newest film, is no exception and is perhaps his most critically acclaimed. As the title suggest, it involves a mother seeking revenge on a killer who framed her mildly to moderately retarded son for murder. This woman is not far off the devotion shown by Tilda Swinton's character in We Need To Talk About Kevin.

5. Bedevilled (South Korea, 2010, dir. Chul-Soo Jang)

No, not the ridiculous movie with Brendan Fraser and Liz Hurley. This one involves a woman on a rural island off the coast of Korea, who is driven to vengeance after the death of her daughter at the hands of the despicable inhabitants. When the bloodshed began, I was so angry at them I could not get enough of it. Great movie, but not as well known as the others for some reason.

6. Confessions (Japan, 2010, dir. Tetsuyo Nakashima)

I saw this one recently, and twice. It's complex, uses gratuitous slow motion, strange music and contains some incredibly beautiful shots. This film is such a departure from what I have come to expect from Asian revenge-fare, that I was really quite taken aback by it. It's convoluted, but the uniqueness alone make it worth your time.

7. I Saw The Devil (South Korea, 2010, dir. Jee-Woon Kim)

Wow, this one is perhaps the most bloody and hardcore of the lot. In fact, so much so that it was banned from public theatres in South Korea until it was heavily cut. The reason? Scenes that "severely damage the dignity of human values." That, and this spectacular red band trailer, should be reason enough.

8. The Last House On The Left (USA, 1972, dir. Wes Craven)

Yes, this is American and Wes Craven did direct it, but it's certainly not Hollywood. It's Craven's wildly controversial feature film debut, and any revenge movie list would be incomplete without it. The IMDB Trivia for this film is damn interesting. I mean, get a load of this one:

"When fledgling director Wes Craven took this film to the MPAA, they slapped it with an "X" rating. Wanting an R for wider release, Craven went back and removed ten minutes of footage. However, this still wasn't enough and the film still got an "X" rating. Once again Craven removed footage, this time taking out 20 minutes. It still wasn't enough. Finally, Craven put all of the original footage back in, got an authentic "RATED R" seal of approval from the film board from a friend of his, put it on the film and released it."

It bears similarities to two other exploitation revenge films from the 1970's: I Spit On Your Grave and Straw Dogs. For one, all three of these films have been (poorly) remade. However, the true classic remains The Last House On The Left.

9. Irreversible (France, 2002, dir. Gaspar NoƩ)

This time we head over to France for one of the most controversial movies of all time. Put it this way, if you don't think you can handle fire hydrant head mashing, constant strobe lights, low frequency background noise designed to invoke nausea, and a 15 minute rape scene, then don't bother. Oh, 200 people walked out at the film's Cannes premiere, and and the movie plays back to front. Not something you see every day, but I have to say it was a brilliant film.

10. The Skin I Live In (Spain, 2011, dir. Pedro Almodovar)

Another recent addition, legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar finally heads to darker territory, and does so with perverted aplomb. I reviewed this one, so read that instead.

Honourable Mentions

Audition (Japan, 1999, dir. Takashi Miike), A Bittersweet Life (South Korea, 2005, dir. Jee-Woon Kim) and The Loved Ones (Australia, 2009, dir. Sean Byrne) failed to make the list not because they aren't good enough, but because they can't really be labelled proper revenge films. Audition is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen, A Bittersweet Life is one of my favourite Korean films (which says a lot if you know how much I love them), and The Loved Ones is bloody incredible.

The Virgin Spring (Sweden, 1960, dir. Ingmar Bergman), Dead Man's Shoes (UK, 2004, dir. Shane Meadows) and Once Upon A Time In The West (Italy, 1968, dir. Sergio Leone) did not make the list because I haven't seen them yet. The Virgin Spring is apparently the basis of The Last House On The Left, Dead Man's Shoes features in my favourite ever Youtube clip (The 100 Greatest Movie Threats), and I will see Once Upon A Time In The West in the next few days. Enough said.

Hopefully the above list provided sufficient material to curb your lust for vengeance for quite a while. In any event, those movies are so good that once you've worked your way through the list you can start again, and never again be bored or unhappy.

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