Hello: perhaps you don’t remember me, as it’s been so long since I last posted. I am the previously-prolific Feminéma who used to blog at length on movies and feminism while also quietly conducting research on leave from teaching. Now I am the cranky Feminéma who’s starting a new semester and dealing with university bureaucracy, and can barely watch a film without falling asleep.

Hence, my return to revenge films. Can you believe I’d never seen Oldboy before?

That’s right! so much for subtlety, literary dialogue, or nuanced character development. Teachers and professors, let me recommend that you soothe your weary tempers by falling into Park Chan-wook’s amazing, twisted, compelling, and occasionally gross-out tale of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik). Dae-su was kidnapped, brainwashed, and tortured for 15 years only to find himself suddenly and mysteriously released. Filled with fury — not to mention questions about who did this to him and why — he sets off on a crazy, brain-addled quest to avenge his lost years. A female sushi chef joins him in his quest (somewhat inexplicably).

It has the kinetic weirdness of a great Spaghetti Western. If you can stand a few really unwatchable horror scenes (isn’t this why we have hands? to put them in front of our faces?), Oldboy is how to survive the nonsense of the institutions we work for.

What is it about revenge tales, and why is Park so good at telling them? This is the second installment of his Vengeance Trilogy (preceded by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and followed by Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, which I quite liked back when I was grading an awful lot of papers a couple of years ago). Is there something to be said here about South Korean culture and politics and the way these brilliant vengeance tales strike a particular chord?

They certainly strike a chord with me. The revenge narrative seems so cathartic because it so often features a protagonist who’s helpless to prevent something bad from happening — so, in response, he/she undertakes a strict regimen of physical and mental training to be ready to exact revenge. That single-minded pursuit, and the clarity of the vengeance motive … oh, I can’t tell you how gratifying it is for those of us who spent an hour on hold waiting for some university administrator.

But it’s not just the actual vengeance; it’s also the ragged edges. The fact that Dae-su is going crazy in his cell as his hair grows longer and frizzier. The fact that exacting revenge is fraught with ambivalence and new revelations about himself and his enemy, revelations that affect his mental clarity.

You see? The vengeance movie shows you that revenge is madness, and perhaps even unsatisfying or soul-destroying. Which is just what I need at the end of a long week, when I looked quite similar to that image of Dae-su, all crazy hair and teeth.

Ordinarily I would have cared more that the female role of Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong, above) is so lackluster, but hey, that would take some feminist ire that I’ve suppressed to get my full intake of vengeance vitamins. Maybe I’ll muster more bile for the Spike Lee remake of the film, reportedly starring Samuel L. Jackson. I promise you, friends, I have not lost the bile; it’s just a question of administering it to the truly deserving.

In the meantime it’s back to lecture-writing and making the longest to-do lists known to humankind. As much as I do love those regular wages, I tell ya: professoring really tests one’s capacity for institutional bullshit.

Advertisements

Hot Tub Time Machine. Survived 20 minutes. So horrible I ceased to care whether it might get better. Oh, John Cusack, what happened to the Tapeheads days?

Julia. Tilda Swinton is always good in the depressive, self-loathing mode she mastered for films like We Need to Talk About Kevin, but she rarely appears as she does in Erick Zonca’s 2009 film: as a manic, beautiful alcoholic forestalling self-loathing with as many drinks as possible. But as riveting as she is, this film was unbearable to watch — the tale is so dark, and her character is on such a bleak downward spiral. Survived 35 minutes.

Ten. I want to like Abbas Kiarostami’s films more than I really do; I’m somewhat baffled by my annoyance. I was only able to make it through 15 minutes of this 2002 film, which apparently traces a single Iranian woman chauffeuring passengers in her car all over Tehran (with the camera positioned directly in front of the windshield, often in very long shots). The first scene, in which her son behaves badly and brattily during their ride, simply left me thinking, “Can I stand this for 5 more minutes, much less 94 more?”

Oldboy. But that’s because the Netflix version was dubbed (and badly): survived only 3 minutes. I can hardly wait to see the subtitled version. And the American remake.

The Witches of Eastwick. What’s not to like about Susan Sarandon and a story about witches? I asked myself when I turned it on. Then I discovered what not to like: Jack Nicholson in his Jack phase (ca. 1987), an impressively stupid plot, and the worst directing ever by George Miller.

Ugh. Even making a list like this puts a bad taste in my mouth. Let’s cleanse our palates with an example of how to write an Oscar-winning film, shall we? Courtesy of Cracked:

[Appreciative laughter; murmured approval; catch-phrase.]