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last update 1.May.11
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I Saw the Devil
dir Kim Jee-woon
scr Park Hoon-jung
prd Kim Hyun-woo
with Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Chun Ho-jin, Chun Kook-hwan, Oh San-ha, Kim Yoon-seo, Choi Moo-seong, Kim In-seo
release Kor 12.Aug.10,
US 4.Mar.11, UK 29.Apr.11
10/Korea 2h21


i saw the devil An epic treatise on the dangers of revenge, this gruelling Korean thriller is worth seeing simply because it's to deeply unsettling. Not only is it startlingly scary and powerfully emotional, it also might be brutally offensive.

When his pregnant fiancee (Oh) is violently murdered, secret-service agent Soo-hyun (Lee) quietly decides to get revenge. He quickly finds the serial killer, Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik), but instead of turning him in, Soo-hyun launches torturous catch-and-release vengeance. As brilliant as his plan is, he fails to count on the fact that the villain is even more pathologically evil than he is, and both men find themselves pushed far beyond their limits as the balance of power shifts between them. Meanwhile, Soo-hyun's boss (Chun Ho-jin) is on their trail.

From the beginning, we understand that Kyung-chul is a blunt, merciless monster ("Why shouldn't I kill you?"), as he callously goes about his grisly business. But of course Soo-hyun is just as coolly professional, fuelled by big emotions that he's trying to subdue in order to give Kyung-chul a taste of his cruel medicine, as if he'd ever get the point. And he's also haunted by his mentor (Chun Kook-hwan), the former police chief who was also his future father-in-law.

Despite some plot inconsistencies, director Kim assembles this with the same slick and inventive skill that both men devote to their actions. It's a gorgeous-looking film scored heavily with pitch-black comedy and palpable emotions. So we're drawn in even as what happens on-screen challenges us in brain-bending ways. Several of the increasingly violent set pieces are deeply disturbing in the way a variety of depraved characters victimise both men and especially women. The body count is almost mind-boggling, although neither killing nor dying is ever depicted in a simplistic way.

So even though we are engaged by the story, what we see is often very hard to watch. There's some pretty unspeakable horror in this shocker of a movie, especially as the good guy becomes pretty monstrous, dishing out (and receiving) physical, psychological and emotional terror. Is he still the hero, or has evil won? And as the horrifyingly squirm-inducing ending approaches, the film cleverly looks at the nature of revenge as well as the natural result of it.

18 themes, language, strong violence, sexuality
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Love Like Poison
3.5/5   Un Poison Violent
dir-scr Katell Quillevere
prd Justin Taurand
with Clara Augarde, Lio, Michel Galabru, Stefano Cassetti, Thierry Neuvic, Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil, Philippe Duclos, Francoise Navarro, Francois Bernard, Catherine Riaux, Margaux Louineau, Huguette Robert
augarde release Fr 4.Aug.10,
UK 13.May.11
10/France 1h32

love like poison It might be somewhat morose and dull, but this deeply internalised French drama is a fascinating take on the coming-of-age movie, exploring issues of faith and fear in everyday life. And it's beautifully directed and acted.

At age 14, Anna (Augarde) is struggling with pretty much everything in her life. Her parents (Lio and Neuvic) have put her in a boarding school while they separate, and she's staying with her mum and ill grandfather (Galabru) for the summer. While coping with the fact that he's dying, Anna starts to notice boys, most specifically a friendly neighbour Pierre (Leboulanger-Gourvil). But all of sparks a crisis of faith, which is echoed in her mother's dark fascination with young local priest Francois (Cassetti). And he's struggling with his own internal yearnings.

Writer-director Quillevere never quite makes any of this clear, preferring to centre on the emotions these personal struggles raise rather than any requirements of a plot. So nothing much happens in this film, besides of course Anna's first real encounters with kissing, death, religion, sexuality and herself. Which is rather a lot, actually. And brief scenes of her mother, grandfather and priest grappling with their own issues quietly makes it clear that these things will go on for the rest of her life.

The film is gorgeously shot and edited, subtly letting the actors' faces convey the feelings without needing to define exactly what's going on with each of them. There are scenes that are cute and sweet (such as Anna's budding relationship with Pierre) and others that are raw and anguished (such as a fight between Anna's parents), and all of it is played with a fine attention to detail that lets us vividly feel each conflicting emotion.

And while there are pointed scenes all along the way, most of the film is mere insinuation, leaving us to take these things to heart in order to make sense of them. Without knowing the characters' full stories, it feels like a bundle of emotions without anything that grounds them. As a result, the movie comes across as mopey and vague; we can understand the doubt and personal crises these people are experiencing, but we never really feel it ourselves.

15 themes, language, nudity
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Outside the Law
3.5/5  Hors la Loi
dir-scr Rachid Bouchareb
prd Jean Brehat
with Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Chafia Boudraa, Bernard Blancan, Sabrina Seyvecou, Assaad Bouab, Thibault de Montalembert, Samir Guesmi, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Ahmed Benaissa, Larbi Zekal
zem, bouajila and debbouze release US 3.Nov.10,
UK 6.May.11
10/Algeria 2h18


outside the law This companion piece to 2006's Days of Glory reunites Bouchareb with his three lead actors, playing different characters (with the same names) through the following 15 years of French-Algerian history. It's a riveting, ultimately melodramatic portrait of a key moment in history.

In the mid-1950s, three Algerian brothers who have experienced pain at the hands of their colonial French rulers reunite in a Paris shantytown. Saïd (Debbouze) has brought their mother (Boudraa) to France as he seeks money-making opportunities, Messaoud (Zem) is back from serving for France in the Indochina war, and the intellectual Abdelkader (Bouajila) is just out of prison. All three become involved in Algeria's resistance movement in different ways, as ruthless antiterrorist cop Faivre (Blancan) uses increasingly violent methods to find them.

The film opens with two prologues: in 1925 the family is thrown off its ancestral land to make room for French farmers, and peaceful marchers in 1945 Setif are gunned down by merciless French soldiers (their father is killed and Abdelkader is arrested). But rather than focus on French heavy-handedness, this is a movie about the fallout of colonialism, using the brothers' stories to shine new light on both post-European colonialism and America's proto-colonialism.

The early sections are especially riveting, as Bouchareb stages scenes with an attention to period detail and a strong narrative drive. The brothers may be a little too iconic as soldier, intellectual and gangster, but their interaction is unpredictable and fascinating, adding some spark to the rather over-serious story. Bouajila has the trickiest role as the too-obsessed Abdelkader, who struggles to balance his fiery sense of responsibility with his relationships.

If Bouchareb had included some offhanded real life to balance the Big Provocative Issues, the film might have sustained the tone to the end. As it is, things begin to drag in the final third as Faivre and the brothers engage in a series of increasingly nasty tit-for-tat attacks. But at least Bouchareb maintains a balance all the way through, as righteous passion infuses the violent actions of people on all sides of the situation. There aren't really any good or bad guys here, but everyone's operating rather a long way outside the law.

15 themes, violence, some language
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13 Assassins
dir Takashi Miike
scr Daisuke Tengan
prd Minami Ichikawa, Toichiro Shiraishi, Michihiko Yanagisawa
with Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira, Hiroki Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Masataka Kubota, Sosuke Takaoka
ichimura and yakusho release Jpn 25.Sep.10,
US 29.Apr.11, UK 6.May.11
10/Japan 2h06


london film fest
13 assassins wood Carefully paced to draw out the internal warfare as much as the blood-and-guts variety, this samurai showdown packs a potent emotional wallop. If the first half feels a little dull, the hour-long battle scene makes up for that.

In 1844 Japan, young Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki) is such a sadist that he's about to end a long period of peace. And his merciless rampage of rape, torture and death goes unchallenged because he's the Shogun's half-brother. Shocked by where this is heading, top samurai Shinzaemon (Yakusho) assembles a team of 12 warriors to take him out. It's clearly a suicide mission. And they pick up a wild-eyed 13th colleague (Iseya) on the way to setting an elaborate trap for Naritsugu and his 200-strong entourage.

Miike clearly enjoys shaking up movie genres, and the first half of this film is an impeccable samurai costume drama, as we learn about the characters and the politically charged situation through encounters that add increasing levels of urgency, plus a few grisly Miike touches. In peacetime, it's not easy to find 12 samurai willing to face real battle; the young ones have never drawn blood with an intent to kill. So their first fights carry an extra sting. And the climactic showdown fills the film's second hour.

Through it all, there's the underlying fact that Naritsugu's top bodyguard (Ichimura) is an old classmate of Shinzaemon; so their increasingly tense face-offs revive and twist their school rivalry and strain their code of honour. The film is packed with these touches, as well as character details that make a few of these fiercely loyal men distinct figures. Although the crazed peasant is the most fun, especially when he throws comical barbs at samurai society.

The heroes' trap is sprung in a spectacular, sometimes exhilarating way. So it seems strange that Miike hasn't added many stylistic flourishes. Perhaps his challenge was to tell the story in a straightforward way, keeping his unnerving genius in check, although it escapes now and then. And while there are eerie parallels with modern society (think of Naritsugu as a politically ambitious banker), the film ultimately feels a little bit slow, by Miike standards at least.

15 themes, strong violence
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall