And while this might be an improvement on that tense time when Will Smith was still in contention, they’re going to have to pull something pretty spectacular out of the bag to live up to the original.
With eight feature films and a fair few shorts under his belt, Park has established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the world cinema stage. He’s a risk-taker, confident enough to throw himself to the wolves knowing that he’ll come out unscathed. This is, after all, the man whose Berlin Golden Bear-winning short, Night Fishing, was filmed entirely on an iPhone. Eager to scramble out of his comfort zone, he’s recently launched himself across to Pacific to direct his first English-language film, Stoker, starring Nicole Kidman.
Park has cut a niche out for himself with Western audiences with his genre-bending cocktails of twisted narratives and stunning visuals. His films are harsh but delicate, bloody but brooding, every one underscored with echoes of revenge, justice and salvation.
But one thing that often goes overlooked is his dedication to characterisation. With Park refusing to fall into the trap of letting the weapons do the talking (here’s looking at you, Kill Bill), every character is meticulously drawn-up, thought-out and realised. So how better to honour the great man than with an (ever-so-slightly reductive) list of his top five most memorable characters?
5. Ryu in Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (Shin Ha-kyun)
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance is the first in Park’s gruesome and incomparable Vengeance Trilogy. Ryu, the film’s deaf, green-haired protagonist, works hard to raise the money for his sick sister’s kidney transplant. So when he finds himself unexpectedly sacked he decides to take drastic action. Egged on by his radical girlfriend, he hatches a plot to kidnap his former boss’ daughter and hold her to ransom.
But when the plan goes pear-shaped – as half-boiled kidnappings are wont to do – it sparks off a torrent of violence that destroys everything in its path. A bloody, messy pressure-cooker of a film, Mr Vengeance kicks off proceedings in typical no-holds-barred style.
Doomed by his well-meaning haplessness, Ryu wanders dazed and abused through a battlefield of his own creation. Considering he doesn’t utter a single word for the entirety of the film, it’s no mean feat that Ryu remains one of the most sympathetic characters in Park’s back catalogue. Mr Vengeance’s message is clear: in the game of revenge, no one is spared.
4. Cha Young-goon in I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (Lim Su-jeong)
You know when Park Chan-wook tries his hand at romantic comedy that the product will be no 50 First Dates. Set in a mental asylum, the rather dubiously-named I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK tells the story of Cha Young-goon, a patient who is convinced that she is – you’ve guessed it – a cyborg.
At some point while she’s tottering around the unit wearing her grandmother’s dentures, whispering into the fluorescent lights of the vending machine and licking batteries at lunch, she catches the eye of Il-sun, a fellow patient with a few eccentricities of his own. Young-goon, meanwhile, finds herself preoccupied with her resolve to murder the ward’s orderlies, who sectioned her own schizophrenic grandmother years ago.
With her ghostly face, toilet-brush hair and fantastically unhinged smile, Young-goon is everything you’d want in a whimsically murderous delusionist. I’m a Cyborg might sound like nothing more than a quirky love story, but this film is Park Chan-wook through and through. A touching offbeat romance with a razor-sharp edge,
I’m a Cyborg shows Park can’t put a foot wrong.
3. Tae-ju in Thirst (Kim Ok-bin)
2009 saw Park turn his attentions to the saturated vampire movie genre. The result was Thirst, about as far removed from old Edward and Bella as it’s possible to get. When a pious monk wakes up from a medical experiment with a nasty craving for human blood, he has to throw his morals out the window in order to survive. Things take a further turn for the tainted as he strikes up an affair with Tae-ju, a bored housewife whose mummy’s-boy husband has been struck down with a lifetime case of manflu.
While this pair start off as dreamy star-crossed lovers, things begin to unravel as Tae-ju plots to get rid of her snivelling husband once and for all. This girl would give Machiavelli a run for his money. Dropping the butter-wouldn’t-melt act before too long, Tae-ju becomes drunk on power and goes straight for the jugular.
Eerily beautiful and commendably twisted, Tae-ju is one of Park’s finest.
2. Oh Dae-su in Oldboy (Choi Min-sik)
In Oldboy, perhaps Park’s best-known movie, a father is kidnapped on a drunken night out. Locked in a single room for fifteen long years without any explanation, Oh Dae-su struggles to figure out who could hold a grudge of such epic proportions against him.
During his incarceration he teeters on the brink of insanity, learning that his wife has been murdered (as he is named the main suspect) and his daughter sent to foster parents. When he is inexplicably released fifteen years later, he meets sushi waitress Mido over a plate of tasty live octopus, and two lonely souls collide. But that’s just the beginning – Oldboy is a slippery head-trip, it’s non-stop high-octane adrenaline with more twists that any reasonable human being can handle.
The flabby, sweating, middle-aged loser that was thrown into the locked room in Oldboy’s early scenes metamorphoses into a consummate killer, dressed all in black, with a mop of bafflingly wild hair.
This is the kind of man your mother warned you about.
1. Lee Geum-ja in Lady Vengeance (Lee Yeong-ae)
Park’s final (and arguably greatest) instalment of the Vengeance Trilogy sees seemingly reserved Geum-ja released from a long stint in prison. Blackmailed into making a false confession when the true killer kidnapped her daughter, the trial of the saintly Geum-ja becomes a media sensation when she is sent to prison for the killing of a young boy. Emerging from her prison sentence apparently still wholesome and intact, Geum-ja has two things she needs to take care of. Firstly, to find her daughter, now living with adoptive parents in Australia. Secondly, to hunt down the true murderer and make him pay.
And with that Geum-ja, and her brilliantly cold, sexual sangfroid, finds herself deservingly at the top spot on our list. Vengeance turns this squeaky-clean angel into a no-nonsense assassin, all hot pink eyeshadow and high heels, who hatches a calculated and systematic plan of revenge against the man who destroyed her life.
The final scenes of this film are like nothing you will ever see. Lady Vengeance is cinema at its most visceral – a guttural, primal cry of rage – and through it all, Geum-ja is silently screaming.
This article was written by Avalon Lyndon, follow her on Twitter here.