Oldebeui (Oldboy) (2003, Korea)
First off, if you’re reading this after Spike Lee‘s remake comes out, this is the one you want to see. Props to Lee for all his good stuff but the remake will suck. This film would get five and a half stars if I could go that high – it’s genuinely one of the most human and gut-wrenching tale of revenge and personal demons you’ll ever see.
This, the second film in Korean Chan-wook Park’s legendary ‘revenge trilogy’ was based on a Japanese Manga cartoon, and the title will give you absolutely no clue as to what it may be all about. So far, so mysterious.
The story begins with Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) getting drunk on his daughter’s birthday and ending up in the police station. His friend helps him get out and as he makes a call from a callbox, he is kidnapped. He awakens in what appears to be a dingy hotel room with no opening doors and no windows. At regular intervals, he is gassed to knock him out, showered, has his hair cut and the whole sorry business begins again. This goes on for 15 years. One day, as suddenly as he was captured, he is given money, a mobile phone and clothes and released. While still adjusting to freedom, he meets Mi-Do (Hye-jeong Kang) and they strike up an uneasy relationship. Soon afterwards, he takes a call from a mysterious stranger, Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu) who invites Dae-su to play a game. He has five days to figure out what the last 15 years were about, or Mi-do dies. On the up side, if he is right, Woo-jin will kill himself.
As you will have noticed, it’s not a Disney production. It has some of the strongest ratings available in cinemas of all countries for its content, menace and general unpleasantness – but that is no excuse to miss out. The whole thing hangs together fantastically well, and the story is tight and bright, with more twists and turns than a slinky on an escalator. When you realize the reasons for his capture, torture and imprisonment, I defy you not to sit there slack-jawed. it really is a doozy. Enjoy.
Das Boot (1981, Germany)
If you’re thinking ‘oh God, a war film made in the eighties’ think again. It is a war film and it was made in the early eighties in what was then still West Germany. ‘Ah, OK’ I hear you say, “so it examines the war from a German perspective, then?” Er, no. Not really. While it does comment on WW2, it avoids clichés and brings the human condition into sharp focus. What would you do if you had to spend weeks on end cooped up with people you hardly knew, with no sunlight and the only break from the monotony was the very real threat of being killed? These are the themes that make Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot such a wonderful, if harrowing, piece of cinema. There are various different ‘cuts’ available, but the 1997 director’s version is probably the most accessible. It’s just shy of three-and-a-half hours, but trust me – you won’t know where it went. In German (unsurprisingly) and probably the best war film ever made. Seriously.
Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game) (1998, France)
First things first – if you know French, watch it in the original language, if not, put the English subtitles and remember two things: the English dubbing is awful enough to make a grown man weep and that under no circumstances should you watch the ‘remake’ (if I have to use the term) starring Steve Carell, called Dinner for Schmucks (2010). To do either of these things would be to rob a classic farce of all its glory and as soon as I become king of the world both shall be banned forever. Are we clear?
So, onto the movie itself. Le dîner de cons is a very simple tale in essence. There’s a weekly dinner game every Wednesday, where a group of friends all try to find the most idiotic nobody to bring to dinner. The guests are invited to talk about themselves at length and after they have all left, the four friends compare notes and elect an ‘idiot of the evening’. A veritable indictment of the smarmy Parisian upper-middle class that will be obvious to all, such needs no further explanation.
With Wednesday coming around, Pierre Brochant is convinced he has found the stupidest man in town and is sure he will win the competition hands down. François Pignon, the ‘idiot’ arrives at Pierre’s place in good time for the dinner and all appears to be set – until Pierre has some serious back trouble. Pignon is only too willing to help and his honest and genuine attempts to assist only make things worse.
This is proper laugh-out-loud comedy. If you know no French at all, the gags are still there in spades. Some of the puns will be lost but I really don’t think that matters too much when the story is such a riot.
Will Pignon save the day? Will Pierre win his dinner game? And what do you do with a good bottle of wine and your antique furniture when the taxman comes calling unexpectedly? You’ll have to watch and find out.
Intacto (Intact) (2001, Spain)
Not a film many will have heard of necessarily – and one I only came upon thanks to my writing partner. Intacto is an under-rated little gem of a movie with a strong story and some lovely ideas, brought to life vividly under the steady guiding hand of director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo – a name you may know from 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to Danny Boyle’s classic.
Intacto couldn’t be further from man-eating infected beings and other such stock splatter fare. This is a film that builds and is very much a slow burn – but without the usual scene-setting and unnecessary character development that draws films that should be 90 minutes out into three hours. Sometimes it’s necessary but I love that Intacto takes a fascinating premise, builds a strong cast around it and then gets the job done in a little over an hour and a half.
If I had to be negative about anything, it would be that the script hags a little loose in places, in that some of the ideas don’t appear obvious. Perhaps it’s because I don’t speak a word of Spanish (other than ordering beers) but it took me a little while to catch up.
The basis of the film is that luck is a transferable entity, and that some people really are more lucky/mucky than others. The lives of three people who can ‘take’ luck from others are examined, each of them extremely lucky already. Enter Samuel (a wonderful turn by Max Von Sydow), a shady casino owner who likes to play games, and the lives of the four become threaded closely in what turns out to be a deadly game of chance. No spoilers here, just watch and see what happens – you might be lucky.
[REC] (2007, Spain)
Ever thought the Spanish were a non-threatening, easy-going bunch with nothing more to worry about except being attacked by platefuls of tasty rustic food? Some of these statements may be true, but not the non-threatening part, oh no.
This fright-fest from (actually quite pleasant) Spanish directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza is one of those movies that’ll lodge itself in your head for years after the first view, simply on the basis that it was probably the last time you literally jumped with fright. Speaking as a seasoned veteran of shocker and slasher flicks, REC does more for the genre in it’s tight, pithy hour and a quarter than most can manage in two hours.
Hyperbole, you say? Not a bit of it. The plot line is minimalistic and there’s no real time for character development as such. Some rescue workers and a camera crew respond to an emergency call at a n apartment block. They get trapped inside. The weird shit begins. That’s it.
There will be comparisons to The Blair Witch Project (1999) because of the shaky hand-cam shooting techniques used and in fairness, Blair Witch was first by some eight years. However, where BW was very sure of how clever it was, it lacked genuine frights and padded a lot of the film out with unnecessary quietude and dodgy symbolism.
[REC] manages to avoid any pretence of art or concept and gets straight down to the business of scaring the bejesus out of you. If you’re one of those people who have ‘seen it all before’, I assure you, you have not. This is a genuine thrill-ride with scares and tension in such carefully balanced measure, I defy you to sit through it without genuinely jumping at least once. I dare you. I double dare you.