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Park Chan Wook (#110 of 7)

Cannes Film Review: The Handmaiden

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Cannes Film Review: The Handmaiden

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Review: The Handmaiden

Director Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, an adaptation of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith, couches a complex game of roleplay in the cultural context of 1930s Korea, during the time of the Japanese occupation. Sookee (Kim Tai-ri), a former pickpocket, is recruited by a Korean farmhand (Ha Jung-woo), who’s studied in Japan and taken on the false identity of a rich count, to help coerce Japanese heiress Lady Hideki (Kim Min-hee) into marrying him. Sookee’s tasked with taking a job at the heiress’s luxury mansion, earning her favor, and gently insinuating the count’s qualifications as a suitor.

The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked

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The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked
The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked

From Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, from Nosferatu to Buffy, it’s safe to say our cultural fascination with the blood-sucking undead isn’t going away anytime soon. Not unlike zombies, those other revivified metaphors that feast on the living, the template afforded by these folkloric beings allows for no shortage of insights into the human condition, with the topics of sexuality, addiction, and mortality chief among them. By far the most famous of these, Dracula, is often cited as the most popular fictional character in all of cinema, with nearly 200 separate film appearances according to IMDb. Of course, the legend of these creatures extends far beyond just this particular icon, and those who are quick to mock the Twilight franchise for allowing its fanged characters to appear in full sunlight, unperturbed, are clearly unaware of the elasticity they’ve exhibited throughout both print and film history. Here, a fairly strict definition of the corporeal undead has been employed (apologies to Louis Feuillade and Claire Denis). These 10 films highlight not just great vampire films, but great films, period, and for each that made the cut, there was at least one more vying for inclusion.

Poster Lab: Spike Lee’s Oldboy

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Poster Lab: Spike Lee’s <em>Oldboy</em>
Poster Lab: Spike Lee’s <em>Oldboy</em>

I hate to take the easy road and say that the designers of the latest Oldboy poster thought outside of the box, but, hey, if the metaphor fits. This beauty of a one-sheet, which heralds Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-Wook’s decade-old modern classic, has antihero Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) emerging from a trunk, whose seemingly bottomless nature makes Joe look like the Mary Poppins of vengeance-seekers. As most already know, Brolin is playing the role made famous by South Korean actor Choi Min-sik. Based on early reports, Brolin won’t be emulating Min-sik by eating a live octopus on camera, but he will be similarly playing a businessman inexplicably imprisoned for 20 years, then suddenly released and bent on finding his captor(s).

Compositionally, the poster is a dream, from the way the trunk’s lid aligns perfectly with the horizon to the way its corner meets a tuft of grass that also serves as the billing block’s nest. With a runner’s stance and a clump of dead grass in his fingers, Brolin looks at once like a ready-to-pounce cat and a madman who’s clawed his way out of a hellish pit. You can feel the movement in a pose that implies instinct, focus, and primal rage.

Sundance Film Festival 2013: Stoker

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Sundance Film Festival 2013: <em>Stoker</em>
Sundance Film Festival 2013: <em>Stoker</em>

Korean director Park Chan-wook, perhaps best known in the West for his “Vengeance” trilogy, makes his English-language debut with Stoker, from a 2010 “Black List” script by Wentworth Miller. The film plays out from the point of view of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowksa), a teenaged girl whose father dies suddenly, leaving her to grieve with an emotionally distant mother Evie (Nicole Kidman). An uncle she’s never met before (Matthew Goode) arrives shortly after, a man who India finds herself attracted to despite a suspicion of his motives. When his mysterious arrival coincides with a series of disappearances, India becomes determined to find out whatever secrets he might be hiding.

Park’s eye seems to capture the banal, the beautiful, and the grotesque all at once. The opening shots of the film are especially striking, taking in the large gothic landscape on the grounds of India’s father’s sprawling, ominous-looking estate. Another scene in, which India and her uncle play the piano together, is claustrophobic, disturbing, and strangely beautiful thanks to sumptuous cinematography by Chung Chung-hoon. The entire atmosphere of the piece seems to suggest a looming danger, the potential and aftermath of violence. And while the violence here is more understated than that of Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, it’s handled with an unflinching lens that simultaneously tantalizes and implicates the viewer.

Poster Lab: Stoker

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Poster Lab: <em>Stoker</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Stoker</em>

Park Chan-wook’s Stoker is one of those films that’s heralded with uniform allure, its bevy of talent advertised in a tantalizing trailer, and now, one artful, remarkable one-sheet. Joining the all-too-slim club of illustrated ads, this black-and-white, apparently pencil-drawn beauty thrives on minute detail, taking the risk of drawing in the eye rather than brashly broadcasting its goods. Sure, there’s bound to be a more marketing-friendly version, with Nicole Kidman’s wrathful face blown up for all to see, but, for now, Chan-wook’s fans can savor Version 1, which, ironically, bears the lines and hues of currency.

Stoker, of course, marks Chan-wook’s English-language debut, and his most buzzed-about work since Oldboy. Co-penned by Prison Break heartthrob Wentworth Miller, it explores the sordid secrets of one very dysfunctional family, whose fan-the-flames surname gives the film its title. The poster, it would seem, depicts a gnarled family tree, dressed with brooding glances, angry birds, and skeletons from closets.