Ciara’s review published on Letterboxd:
DVD Bong time with two friends - one who watched The Host with me and my Korean friend, who'd never seen any of Bong Joon-ho's films. This is not only my favorite Korean film, it's one of my favorite films of all time. This thing is hilarious, it's a heart breaker, it's an onion. A police procedural that is anything but generic.
After a vital rewatch and with more of a grounding in Korean history than I'd had when I saw this film for the first time (thanks in part to my Korean friend, who's studying political science and with whom I've spent many the long night in a cafe talking about Korean and Irish history and whether or not Peter Pan is a bastard) I was just utterly gobsmacked by almost everything in this movie.
Not only is it hilarious (I haven't laughed so hard at any film in a long long time - Song Kang-ho's greeting to the Kim Sang-kyun character got a straight up applause from the three of us,) but it is dark and twisted and emotional.
I don't mind straight dramas, but I am the kind of person who tends to find the comedy in the darkness. I can remember when I was 13 my granny died and since the family is Catholic, we had the whole open casket thing for her. Well, before we put the nails in we all lined up for a goodbye kiss. My uncle was in front of me, and he gave her a big smooch right on the lips and her mouth popped open. I was up next and I had to make a quick tactical move - go for the open mouth? Kiss her on the cheek? Or do what I did, close the mouth and then kiss her. I was shaking with laughter and the whole walk down to the church, I couldn't stop thinking of her mouth just popping open. It was so weird. As if she was halfway to St Peter and realized she forgot to say one last thing.
Bong Joon-ho is just a master when it comes to finding absurd comedy in deeply dark scenarios. I was laughing almost every other minute, thanks to the great script and performances - take a bow, Sang Kang-ho, you wonderful, glorious man.
But the whole time, Bong Joon-ho is in charge. His camera is faultless, and you can be laughing so hard you don't even see the fist coming until it's hit you in the gut and you're doubled over on the verge of tears. He never loses sight of the tragic, human story: some man is torturing, raping and murdering women.
The police, the first generation to be born after the Korean war, are uneducated beyond a couple of years in high school, untrained and take their cues mostly from American tv. They have no idea how to handle this case. They screw up the crime scenes. They use torture. They plant false evidence.
The violence in this film is fascinating. There's almost no violence show against the women - we see the aftermath. The women are not posed in sexy underwear, sprawled out with their make up still intact. Their flesh is dead and wet and white and puffy and crawling with ants. The flashes we get of the actual crimes show no violence - Bong uses them to demonstrate the unimaginable fear and helplessness and sickening dread the women endure. I figured, after a teen life growing up on CSI and Criminal Minds, I was desensitized to the images of dead bodies on screen. But this is different. This is not meant to titillate our morbid curiosity (and indeed, Bong is clearly aware of this as one of the key suspects is a man who, erm, gets off on fantasies of the murders). I felt so heartbroken by the senseless acts committed against innocent people. This was based on a true story. These women were killed. They were robbed of their chance for life. It was stolen from them in the most heinous way imaginable. It's cruel and unfathomable and my tears are worthless.
And yet, there is violence. Against men. The police commit many acts of awful torture. The police brutality in this film is one of the greatest examples of the cruel futility of torture. Our heroes commit villainous acts, influenced by the consumption of too much thoughtless American tv shows where torture is glorified. Yet in a great paradox, as disgusted as we are by their methods, we still cheer for them. Bong Joon-ho and his actors have created rich characters whose limitations are a fault of the times they grew up in, not of their personalities (well, for the most part). And also, simply, there is no one else who can get the job done. They are not the heroes we wanted, but they're the only ones at hand.
The score is beautiful, the action scenes thrilling - my American friend pointed out how exciting the lack of guns made everything. The thing is funny and sad and deeply disturbing.
Best of all, it's a serial killer movie that gives not a fuck about the serial killer: there's no attempt to manipulate the audience into feeling sympathy for him for a shitty childhood or anything of the sort. Serial killers, along with pedophiles, are in my book like rabid animals. If they do not keep their distance and act upon their urges, they have to be locked up. Our focus is right where it should be: on the police, the community, and the victims. Bong Joon-ho is a boss.