Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

It’s not without irony that Quentin Tarantino led the jury that awarded this Korean thriller the Palme d’Or at Cannes, since it shares so many of his strengths as well as his biggest weakness. Intense to a fault, this revenge flick follows a man determined to find out who kept him sealed in an apartment for fifteen years, a quest that leaves him bloodied and his enemies robbed of various body parts. It’s a carnal, vicious film where even the lovemaking is violent, and it contains one electrifying fight scene where the hero beats his way through a whole gang in a single, unbroken three-minute shot. But the movie has such an intensity of focus that even the minor scenes are treated as epiphanies, a momentum-killing style that frees the viewer’s mind to wander just as the clockwork plot demands concentration. There’s a revelation at the end of the film that would make M. Night Shyamalan jealous, based on the kind of labyrinthine plot that rewards multiple viewings as you understand just how carefully the trap was set, but the film is so exhausting that you can’t imagine watching it more than once.

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