Haunted by history and caught in a state of maddened rue, the Korean new wave is still gaining steam as a zeitgeist, and Park Chan-wook appears to be its most beloved ambassador: He takes his movie culture’s yen for emotional meth and triples the dose. His hit debut, Joint Security Area (2000), is a hot-wired, woebegone political thriller about a military murder on the trigger-happy borderland. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) is a morally probing modern epic that begins with the question of organ trafficking and escalates into a mortal hellfire worthy of Ballard and Kundera. An even more explosive dogfight between outlandish justice and personal costs, Oldboy (2003) creates a warped, intensive psycho-realm all its own and will open in a few weeks. The coup here is If You Were Me (2003), a startling six-film omnibus centering on issues of tolerance and civil empathy; Park’s entry details the six-year plight of a Nepalese woman incorrectly thrust into Korea’s mental-health system. Outraged and Kiarostamian in its re-enacted truth telling, it’s also easily his most temperate film.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 22, 2005