There’s a thin line between love and hate, and somewhere along that line lies revenge. So, with the upcoming UK cinema release of I Saw the Devil, directed by Kim Je-woon (The Good, The Bad & The Weird, A Bittersweet Life) and starring two of my favourite actors, Lee Byung-hun (also The Good, The Bad & The Weird & A Bittersweet Life. Funny, that.) and Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) I decided to look at three films that explore the theme of revenge, (one of which just happens to be A Bittersweet Life.)
After all, as we all know, revenge is awesome. Who doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy inside when they see their ex has completely gone to shit after the break-up? You know, before you start drinking heavily and making tear-choked phonecalls at three in the morning. What? That wasn’t just me, was it? God dammit. Well, anyway these films are like that, but only if you then murdered your ex and about fifty additional people.
Revenge for Family: Dead Man’s Shoes (UK, 2004)
Before This is England made him super famous, Shane Meadows wrote and directed Dead Man’s Shoes: a film that taught me all about family, forgiveness and how to kill a man with one punch.
The film follows the adventures of Richard, played by Paddy Considine, a war veteran returning home to exact revenge on the drug-dealers who tormented his brother during his absence. The revenge, if you hadn’t already worked out from the title, involves murder. Lots and lots of murder.
He comes up with increasingly elaborate methods of killing these people, including somehow getting one of them to murder the other without even trying to get them to do it. Seriously, he just stands there and watches; holding an axe he seems disappointed he isn’t going to get to use.
Also, and I don’t want to spoil the ending, but between this and the end of This is England I am almost certain that Shane Meadows is determined to break my heart.
Revenge for Love: A Bittersweet Life (Korea, 2005)
There are few feelings worse in this world than unrequited love, and most of us have felt that hollow, disembodied pain resting in the pit of our stomach at least once. Then A Bittersweet Life said: ‘What if that pain in the pit of our stomach was actually an ice pick?’
To be honest, ‘bittersweet’ doesn’t really do justice to a lot of what happens to Sun-Woo, the protagonist of this film. After falling in love with his boss’s girlfriend, he gets a five-star beating, has something done to his hand that I won’t give away, (but I will say that the scene is so graphic, I am not entirely convinced that there isn’t a stuntman somewhere who now spends his free time teaching himself to write with his other hand) and then gets buried alive. That all happens in the space of about ten minutes.
If you think that’s a bit extreme just for falling in love with your boss’s girlfriend, it’s probably worth noting that his boss does happen to be, like, the head of the Korean Mafia. If there’s one person you don’t piss off, it’s the man who decides who is getting buried alive and who’s doing the burying. Anyway, after somehow surviving all that, Sun-Woo practices the breathing techniques his therapist taught him before moving to the countryside and starting a new life as a humbl- Ha ha, I’m just kidding. He murders about half of Korea.
As it turns out, if there’s one guy you don’t piss off even more than the head of the Korean Mafia, it’s the guy that guy uses when he needs someone killed to death.
Revenge Because You’re A Dangerous Lunatic: The Story of Ricky (Japan, 1991)
Set in the post-apocalyptic prison system of Future Japan, The Story of Ricky is a film that showed us you really can follow your dreams, provided your dreams include exploding peoples heads with your fists and getting through enough corn syrup and red food colouring to raise the Titanic. In all honesty, the reasons for Ricky’s incarceration in the film are murky at best, but he doesn’t spend too long worrying about it and neither should you; not when there are people standing around waiting to be murdered in a needlessly extravagant manner.
For example, after being temporarily blinded by powdered glass, (apparently cured by washing your face with dirty water; just so you know) Ricky proceeds to pimp-slap a man on the back of the head, causing his eye to pop out and get eaten by crows. Not one to be outdone, the man then retaliates by using a Bowie knife to cut his own stomach open…Stick with this, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. He then attempts to strangle Ricky with his own large intestine.
The plan goes about as well as you’d expect and is brought to a swift end when Ricky throws him twenty feet in the air and punches him in the face on the way back down, just because he wasn’t quite done being a dick yet.
If you think that’s all a bit odd, it’s worth noting that in the comic the film is based on, (which is honestly called Violence Hero Riki-Oh,) it turns out Ricky was born after a Nazi from space raped his mother in prison; a fact that only emerges after he spends five chapters chasing said Space Nazi to get back his brother’s severed head, which can apparently nuke entire cities just because.
At the risk of sounding xenophobic, it’s like the Japanese are in some sort of private war with sanity that no one else even knows about. And they are kicking the shit out of it.