Terror for Boys and Girls

Audition. Image courtesy of Lion's Gate Films Oldboy. Image courtesy of Tartan Asia Extreme The Ring Two.  Image courtesy of Dreamworks/Universal Studios

AUDITION. Directed by Takashi Miike.
The first of the prolific filmmaker’s works to receive play in US cinemas, AUDITION now seems, in light of some of Miike’s other, more extreme films, to be rather restrained. The story is that a man and his friend stage a series of fake auditions to find one of them a girlfriend. The audition “winner” is, indeed, a beautiful girl, but she has something other than romance on her mind. The conclusion still gives me the willies.

The previous R1 version, released by the American Cinematheque, went out of print. The new version from Lion’s Gate promises a fresh transfer with new subtitles and a slew of extras.

HARAKIRI. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi.
The Criterion Collection rolls out this complex 1962 Japanese drama, “a riveting study of samurai codes of honor.” Very good reviews, but the $39.99 list price indicates a rental for all but well-heeled completists.

OLDBOY. Directed by Park Chan-wook.
Crime novelists do it all the time.

They imagine bizarre scenarios that the most twisted insane criminals might dream up on a very bad night. Then they plot how to arrive at the point of impact, when the reader finally realizes the full extent of evil in the world and crawls under the covers, whimpering softly.

OLDBOY is the middle film of a trilogy about revenge envisioned by director Park Chan-wook. Of necessity, it repeats, amplifies, and extends the themes outlined in the first film in the trilogy, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (currently playing in limited US engagements), without carrying over any of the characters.

To a limited degree, it also recalls the director’s powerful debut, JOINT SECURITY AREA. On the surface, that film was not about revenge, yet there too we saw a nasty flip, a terrifying tit-for-tat that erupts from a very quiet moment, reminiscent of the “turning the tables” idea that is central to revenge.

In OLDBOY, a man is locked up in a private prison for 15 years without knowing why. He is then released and told — mysteriously, of course, by an anonymous voice on a cell phone — to figure out the reason. Subsequently he becomes involved with a woman while plotting his revenge against his captor. His methods for tracking down the culprit involve brutal torture and extreme physical violence.

The film is compelling to watch, but after the fact it leaves an uneasy feeling that makes it more one to appreciate on a visual level rather than try to make too much sense of the narrative. Park forces the viewer’s face up close to burning fires, close enough to temporarily blind one’s judgment. Is it really worth the pain?

Tartan USA’s DVD releases have received mixed notices regarding the qualify of the video and audio transfers. That being said, this edition is said to include a commentary with the director and cinematographer, an interview with the director, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and trailers. Recommended rental, and possibly a purchase.

THE RING TWO. Directed by Hideo Nakata.
In the cinema I found this sufficiently entertaining to recommend it during the early, dog days of the year, but upon further reflection — and a viewing of the superior US remake of DARK WATER — I find that this sequel to the American remake has only neglible value. Oddly enough, I enjoyed the original DARK WATER, which Nakata also directed, but found a second viewing to be a diminished experience. It’s not a good sign that in a relatively short career, Nakata is already repeating himself. Naomi Watts is better than the script, which seems content to link together the CGI-reliant major spook sequences.

Check carefully, as a rated Pan and Scan verision is also out there, but the one you want to see is the unrated Widescreen edition. List price is $29.98; that plus the quality of the picture means a rental at best.

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