(director/writer: Park Chan-wook; screenwriters: Jo-yun Hwang/Chun-hyeong Lim/story by Garon Tsuchiya and Minegishi Nobuaki; cinematographer: Jeong-hun Jeong; editor: Kim Sang-Beom; music: Yeong-wook Jo; cast: Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-su), Yoo Ji-tae (Lee Woo-jin), Gang Hye-jung (Mido), Dae-han Ji (No Joo-hwan); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Seung-yong Lim; Tartan Video; 2003-SKorea-in Korean with English subtitles)

That Park has talent in the technical department is a given; that he’s a good filmmaker is debatable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

South Korean director Chan-wook Park (“Joint Security Area”/”Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”) won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes film festival for this stylish noir thriller that starts with an engaging Kafka-like premise but soon descends into a low-level Asian pulp action programmer. The choice was a controversial one since the chairman responsible for picking the pulp film was Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino. Filmed like a Japanese manga; it’s based on a story by Garon Tsuchiya and Minegishi Nobuaki.

Drunken middle-aged womanizing salaryman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped on the street on the night of his daughter’s birthday, after released by the police on bail supplied by his friend and is mysteriously imprisoned in an apartment with cable TV but no window for 15 solitary years. He’s suddenly released after all these years for no apparent reason and learns he’s the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. His daughter Eva was raised by a Swedish couple. Obsessed to find his wife’s killers, locate his daughter and get revenge for those who imprisoned him, he begins his sleuthing quest. The revenge film falls apart as it becomes derivative of an absurd Takashi Miike film and never makes its engrossing premise live up to its intellectual promises. Though released to the world, Oh’s ordeal is not over as he’s given a cell phone and wallet full of money by a bum in the street. He continues to receive torturous cryptic messages from his mysterious jailer. While dining he meets and falls in love with beautiful sushi waitress, Mido (Gang Hye-jung), who helps him in his mission. Later he meets his anonymous tormenter, Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae), who gives him five days to figure out why he was imprisoned or face more consequences. This requires him to think back to his high school days (Don’t we all!).

The director ignores the tensions of the mystery (only the motive for imprisonment remains) and instead shoots scenes that are humorously brutal and cartoonish and meant to be eye candy for those who like gratuitous violence and lots of nastiness, such as teeth pulled out by a hammer. Meanwhile, Choi hams it up and participates in one repulsive scene where he eats a live squirming octopus whole.

That Park has talent in the technical department is a given; that he’s a good filmmaker is debatable. In his early films, he seems more ready to shock than tell a good story. His works seem an acquired taste like one’s appetite for sushi.