A review of Gasper Noe’s Enter the Void for the Express Tribune:
The first act of Gasper Noe’s extremely trippy movie Enter the Void is a lot like the visuals one sees at underground dance clubs. In fact, if I was doing visuals for such a club, I would definitely use parts of it.
If his 2002 film Irreversible starts off on a particularly disturbing note and keeps heading in a more positive direction, then Enter the Void is pretty much the opposite. Kind of, not really. We start off with a first-person look into the life of Oscar (played by Nathaniel Brown), a French orphan living in Tokyo who has just started dealing drugs. And we get a first-hand look into the effects of some of the drugs that Oscar is selling, and dabbling into as well.
The gimmick in Irreversible was the maddening rotating camera movement and backwards timeline, and in Void the first gimmick is the point-of-view camerawork. We see everything from Oscar’s eyes, with the screen actually going black when he blinks. It is him we see whenever he looks into the mirror. At one point Oscar tries something referred to as DMT, and we see visuals similar to, but a lot more advanced than, the iTunes visualiser.
Oscar’s beautiful younger sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) doesn’t approve of his lifestyle, and is seeing the decidedly dodgy owner of the strip club where she works. Then Oscar dies and, as his spirit leaves his body, we continue to see things from his point-of-view. Only now we are able to fly all over Tokyo, through space and time, when we go to the France of Oscar and Linda’s past, learning many disturbing things which explain how both siblings ended up the way they did. The camera miraculously floats through walls, over roofs, along alleys, up into the sky, wherever Oscar’s unfortunate spirit goes. Second gimmick.
Aleksadr Sokurov once gave an interview about his 99-minute single-take film Russian Ark. When he was asked about the Herculean accomplishment of shooting an entire feature-length film — especially one as visually rich as Russian Ark — in a single take, he responded by saying that that aspect of it was just a gimmick, the movie was much more than that. But I really don’t know if I can say the same for Enter the Void. Although initially the movie is visually stimulating, at some point the endless floating through walls begins to get annoying. There is plenty of production and post-production wizardry that has gone into this film, but the result gets tedious by the time you finally reach the 161st minute of it.
I don’t think that every movie needs to a life-changing experience, and Noe touches on a lot of really interesting subjects in the movie, but Enter the Void somehow seems to suffer from a chronic lack of substance. Or, perhaps, from too much of it — there is so much going on with the flashbacks and the flying around, it’s hard to tell which. When a filmmaker uses such overpowering gimmicks, then it must be very tricky not to let them take over the most important aspect of the film: the storytelling. I feel Gasper Noe failed to do so.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 6th, 2011.
Here’s a review I did for the Ji-woon Kim movie I Saw the devil, as published on Express Tribune:
I Saw the Devil is the fourth Ji-woon Kim film I have seen and loved, and amazingly, each one is vastly different from the next.
A Tale of Two Sisters was a horror flick, A Bittersweet Life became one of my favourite action movies, and The Good, the Bad and the Weird was a hilarious comedy-western. Which brings us to I Saw the Devil, a nail-biting crime thriller. Kim’s versatility and his ability to excel in each genre he explores reminds me of my all-time favourite director Stanley Kubrick.
I believe this is the third consecutive Ji-woon Kim movie starring Byung-hun Lee, and here he plays Kim Soo-hyeon, an agent working for a South Korean intelligence agency. His fiancée is brutally murdered by a serial killer Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik fromOldboy), and Soo-hyeon makes it his life’s purpose to track down the killer and exact a revenge that truly, and I mean truly, makes the killer feel the pain that he inflicted on his victims.
Every time Soo-hyeon catches Kyung-chul he tortures him, then proceeds to have him treated for the injuries that he has inflicted on him, so that he can feel the pain all over again the next time he catches him. Perversely, not only does Kyung-chul start enjoying this cat-and-mouse game with his hunter, but Soo-hyeon also begins to cross the line, slowly becoming a monster himself, The ensuing internal conflict the protagonist suffers after realising this makes the movie psychologically so much more interesting than a straight-up revenge thriller like, say, Taken. Indeed, the question is: how easy is it to become a ‘monster’? If a ‘normal’ person was pushed beyond a certain point, could he or she do something as horrible as what Soo-hyeon does?
Byung-hun Lee is absolutely brilliant in the film, reminiscent of his role in A Bittersweet Life. He is unbelievably tough and resilient, yet emotionally vulnerable. And Min-sik Choi plays his character superbly: he is menacing, chaotic, and a slave to his wanton desires. Anything is possible with Kyung-chul, he has no limits, and that is a reality that Soo-hyeon has to face and pay for dearly when he messes with him.
Along the way, Soo-hyeon also meets some pretty messed up friends of Kyung-chul’s and these encounters are some of the best parts of the movie, a darkly comic celebration of madness and murder. In fact, we go through a directory of psychopaths, and one begins to see that there is a kind of hierarchy amongst them, with Kyung-chul undoubtedly coming out on top. Oh yes, I Saw the Devil is certainly not for the faint-hearted, there is much blood-gushing severing of limbs that goes on throughout the movie. And I won’t say that it isn’t indulgent, because what else should a director do if not indulge his audience?
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 30th, 2011.