Kim Jee-woon has only directed six feature length films, some of which are considered nothing short of masterpieces by films experts and fans alike, the rest still being excellent bodies of work. A tale of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life are two that stand out the most among his short but memorable pallet. One a dark and violent tale of a broken man out for revenge, the other a creepy dip into the horror genre, but more so a deep character study, and some superb story telling. You might call I Saw the Devil a combination of the two. Though it lacks the “horror” elements of Tale of Two Sisters, it still embodies Kim’s ability to carefully craft some truly memorable characters, and tell a rich story in the process. And like A Bittersweet Life, you can expect some truly brutal violence. I Saw the Devil is violent, very very violent, and it doesn’t hold back one bit. It makes sure you as the viewer are squirming in your seat and almost feeling the pain being shown on the screen, and believe me there are times you will be doing just that.
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After A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964) exploded onto the American market there was a mad dash for cash with various other Spaghetti Westerns making the jump across the ocean, trying to steal some of that iconic fire stoked so masterfully by its director and star Clint Eastwood. But for every valiant effort like The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1968) or Death Rides A Horse (Giulio Petroni, 1967) there is a horrendous train wreck of mystifying dreck. While on hiatus from Star Trek (1966-1969), William Shatner saw a great opportunity to grasp onto the coattails of the Man With No Name and strike out on his own rampaging tale of Western revenge. White Comanche (Gilbert Lee Kay, 1968) offered him not one but two vicious cutthroats to inhabit, and it may be a foul mess of a movie, but as far as curiosities go, it’s a must-see.
“I hope you can chew what you just bit off.” – Vance Jeffords
The Furies (Anthony Mann, 1950) is one of those special brand of films where all the players are vile beasts to one another, and as each back is stabbed (or face scissored) there is great delight to be had in their wretched and ultimately deadly antics. If you’re a cheer for Gordon Gekko kinda filmgoer than you’ll relish the hate fueled battleground of Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Huston’s father/daughter routine. Imagine that venom spit back and forth at your dinner table and you’ll want to spend your meals cowering on the floor with the family dog. Of course, much of the film’s familial sadism stems from Mann’s desire to shoehorn Niven Busch’s novel into a King Lear adaptation (an obsession detailed in Robin Wood’s “Mann of the Western” essay found within the Criterion DVD; check it out, it’s fantastic). This hotbed Western cares little for gunplay; focusing on psychological scar tissue as much as the revenge shed violence.
After producer Roger Corman dismissed an abortion drama script from Jack Nicholson, the actor and director Montel Hellman travelled into the Utah desert to film a pair of supposedly less daring but absolutely cheap (i.e. profitable) Westerns. Shot back-to-back in 1965, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind would see a theatrical release in France, but only reached an audience in the States via the rare television showing. The year 2000 saw a DVD release of The Shooting, but despite a brief streaming run on Netflix, 40 plus years after its release Ride in the Whirlwind is still waiting for some distribution love. However, those lucky enough to live near the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland were treated to a couple of big screen presentations as part of their current Jack Nicholson retrospective. The three month event was kicked off with The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006) and As Good As It Gets (James L Brooks, 1997) but the more bent and groovy locals should be more excited at the prospect of these oddball oaters than the other half dozen screenings of obvious classics. Come on, Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Foreman, 1975) will always play the retro circuit, but how often are you going to see the furious eye rage of Warren Oates burning down Millie Perkins’ shrill vengeance seeker? Not bloody often.
1999 was kind of an amazing year for movies. Sure, it’s the same year that knocked George Lucas off his geek pedestal as The Phantom Menace raped the childhood of millions of basement geeks (and the internet has never quite recovered)—BUT! after a decade of fairly bland and safe filmmaking, it climaxed with a barrage of New Classics. American Beauty (Sam Mendes), Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze), Election (Alexander Payne), Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick), Fight Club (David Fincher), Ghost Dog (Jim Jarmusch), The Iron Giant (Brad Bird), The Limey (Steven Soderbergh), Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Matrix (Wachowski Brothers), The Sixth Sense (M Night Shyamalan), Three Kings (David O Russell). Those are 12 movies I would have a tough time witling into a Top 10, and that’s a problem I haven’t experienced in the following 13 years. Now, being the weirdo contrarian that I am, the film that crowned my personal Best List that year was a movie that barely made a whimper in the genre zeitgeist, let alone a dent at the box office.
*The 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Academy award winner.(and deservedly so!)
Yojiro Takita’s Departures is not only one of the best Japanese films I have seen, but one of the best films period. Even after multiple viewings over the course of almost three years since I first watched it, I am still in awe. Departures is a truly beautiful story about a failed cellist who gives up his big city life, and moves back to his hometown. Then through circumstances best described as “fate”, a typo in the want ads of a newspaper leads him to discover his calling as a mortician. Not only does this change his life, but it would lead him to re-discover lost parts of his own past.
Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (William Dear, 1982) is a stunning bit of forgotten cheeze that demands the attention of lovelorn nostalgia geeks everywhere. Starring my personal go-to 80s adventurer Fred Ward (Remo Williams! Tremors!) as the titular Dirtbike Champion who accidentally travels back in time when he ventures off course during the Baja 1000, and stumbles upon a supposedly top secret government project. Yes, three years before Marty McFly strapped into the DeLorean for his Oedipal Odyssey and eight years before he quickdrawed Mad Dog Tannen, the defender of all things Rad, Lyle Swann tripped the time stream and ignited his own special brand of historical paradoxes. And who can we thank for this B Movie Back To The Future (Robert Zemeckis)? Screenwriter—and Monkees guitarist—Mike Nesmith!
Take A Hard Ride (Antonio Margheriti, 1975) is the spiritual sequel to the Blaxploitation Super Group flick, Three The Hard Way (Gordon Parks Jr, 1974); reteaming genre idols Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly against the equally iconic Lee Van Cleef inside yet another cashcow sub-genre, the Spaghetti Western. And yeah, it’s all about the stunt casting. Remove any one of these players and you’re left with a plot barely worth your attention, just one of a hundred other moochers looking to keep its head above a sea of Leone imitators. No, you plopped down your cash for the versus moment. Iron Man vs. Captain America. Slaughter vs. Hammer. And director Margheriti knows how and when to deliver on that inevitable knock-down, drag-out fight—with never-ending fireballs of splintery explosions. But that’s getting ahead of our selves.
“Most People Remember Too Hard” – Killer Cain
Clint Walker is a mountain of a man. At 6’6’’ he towers over his fellow cast members, an imposing figure most often thought of as a potential heir apparent to George Reeves’s Superman. Ah, and he really would have been perfect! Unlike, monstrous Bond villain brutes like Richard Kiel or the commie Apollo smasher Dolph Lundgren, there’s gentleness to his stature; a protective soul behind those eyes that radiates warmth rather than simple bestial manliness. He’s the big brother of the movies. The guy’s got your back. He may not have been the A List Lead (or B List or even C List) of The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich, 1967), but Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson could fight Nazis with peace of mind knowing that Clint Walker was riding shotgun. The gentle giant never had the opportunity to wear the cape, but 108 episodes of TV’s Cheyenne, numerous other cowboy boob tube appearances, the nature run amuck schlock of Night of the Grizzly (Joseph Pevney, 1966), and that small bit in The Dozen secured him a comfortable character actor status. However, his finest achievment was for an oddball Western partnering his outcast gunfighter with the master of B-movie macabre, Vincent Price.
Five years after not winning the story credit he expected on 20th Century Fox’s The Gunfighter (Henry King, 1950) Roger Corman finally stepped behind the camera for his very own Western, Five Guns West. He had just completed producing his first three features (Highway Dragnet, Monster From The Ocean Floor, & The Fast and The Furious) for Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson’s Palo Alto Productions (which would later transform into the infamous American International Pictures) and took $60,000 dollars out of their pocket and nine days out of his already-busy schedule to shoot his first film—and in Color no less! As far as introductions go, Five Guns West is not a revelation, but it does show the early promise of Corman’s tightwad mogul who would soon rule the Drive-Ins and video rental houses across America, as well as the hearts of film geeks everywhere.