The Housemaid (1960 Korea)
Long considered one of the great films in Korean cinema history, "The Housemaid" is an excellent domestic thriller about a middle-class family terrorized by their hired maid, who wastes no time proving that she might be a few cards short of a full deck. A husband, wife, son and daughter move into a two-story house and hire a maid to help out, but things soon take a turn for the worse (and worse) once the maid (Lee Eun-shim) moves in. Lee Eun-shim is brilliant in her role and it's been reported that audience reaction to her character was so strong that shouts of "Kill the Bitch!" could be heard at screenings - and Eun-shim was never cast in another movie again as a result despite her acting skills. Think of "Fatal Attraction" meets "Psycho" circa 1960 South Korea. A dark, creepy and twisted tale that is certainly a reflection of reality. Think such a situation couldn't happen to you? It could happen to anyone.
Black Rain (1989 Japan)
Filmed entirely in black and white, Black Rain deals with the subject of the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The story follows an aunt, uncle and their neice as they survive the horrifiying attack yet deal with the consequences of radiation while trying to move on with their lives. The survivors are faced with prejudice from those unaffected by the attacks. An excellent movie with a very powerful and important message. I've never seen another movie with such graphic depictions of the nightmareish aftermath of death and destruction in Hiroshima. Highly recommended if you don't mind subtitles. This is certainly not to be confused with the Michael Douglas movie of the same name, which was also released in 1989.
Drunken Angel (1948 Akira Kurosawa)
My first time viewing a film directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa. "Drunken Angel" marked the first time Toshiro Mifune was cast in a Korusawa movie and certainly not the last. Mifune played the role of a Yakuza gangster dying from tuberculosis, who develops an unlikely and uneasy relationship with the alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) wishing to treat him. A mere three years removed from the war, this movie is set around the rundown muddy swamps and alleyways of post-war Tokyo. The fight between Matsunaga (Mifune) and Okada, a rival Yakuza fresh out of prison, is a little on the ridiculous side, which might have been done on purpose to ridicule their choice of lifestyle. "Drunken Angel" was filmed during the US occupation and it was subjected to censorship prior to release although a few scenes made it into the final cut undetected. A good introduction to Kurosawa's early style of filmmaking and I'm looking forward to seeing more. Since I'm watching his stuff in order, the classic "Rashomon" (1950) is next on the list to be viewed.
Rashomon (1950 Akira Kurosawa)
Excellent movie from the camera work to the story-telling to the acting even though the ending with the baby was a bit confusing and out of nowhere. This was a fascinating tale of rape/murder explained and reflected upon through the viewpoints of four different people, including the murdered Samurai. Rashomon requires viewers to pay close attention to the subtitles of each story in attempt to figure out what really happened. But what really did happen in the woods on the fateful day? Which story is accurate? Which story is fabricated? Who is honest and who is stretching the truth? Kurosawa's Rashomon questions our humanity and reminds us all that nobody is honest and that people only believe what they want to believe - see what they want to see or remember what they want to remember. Humans are dishonest. We are liars, cheats, schemers and all of the rest. We are even willing to sellout those we claim to love when push comes to shove. The ending with the priest giving the woodcutter the abandoned baby seemed to come out of nowhere to provide a somewhat happy ending to a rather bleak and depressing story. However, maybe it's just my imagination, but there seemed to be a slightly sinister look on the woodcutter's face as he walked away with the little baby at the end. All in all, I thought Rashomon was excellent and thought-provoking at the same time.
Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005 Korea)
Finally got around to watch this and I thought it was fantastic. Lady Vengeance is the conclusion to director Park Chan-wook's acclaimed Vengeance trilogy. A beautifully shot tale of an attractive 19 year wrongfully imprisoned for 13.5 years for a murder she didn't commit. She became a model prisoner and she was well liked by everyone all the while plotting revenge on the man who ruined her life. Her plan begins to take shape once she is released from the prison. One could certainly view Lady Vengeance as a character study right up until the credits start rolling. Lee Yong-ae gives a brilliant performance as a woman hellbent on revenge while seeking redemption at the same time. This movie also has its own fair share of dark humor in some scenes. It's rather difficult to properly comment on this film without giving away major plot spoilers. The ending/climax is very well done and a fitting close to the trio of Vengeance-related movies. Dark, surreal, subtle, humorous, violent. Take your pick. Loved this from start to finish. Recommended.