south korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook rarely missed throughout his career. His talent as a screenwriter matches his talent as a director, and for over 20 years he has brought anguish, joy, splendor, tears and terror to audiences around the world. Its international success is well deserved and it has established a distinctive visual style that has spanned multiple genres. Park’s desire to become a filmmaker came to fruition when he first watched Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece vertigo. He spent the early days of his career as a film critic, and in 1992 released his first film, a gangster thriller called The Moon is… the Dream of the Sun. His second feature film Trio came five years later, but neither had much impact. Both films are hard to find, and Park rarely acknowledges their existence. Still, unwilling to give up directing, Park continued to develop his craft, shooting the short Judgement a year before his directing career took off. He has since established a signature filmmaking style, making films featuring brutal violence and his trademark black comedy. His last movie, Decision to leave, is already getting a lot of positive attention and is set to hit theaters in October. In the meantime, here’s our ranking of all of Park’s theatrical releases.
8. Lady Vengeance (2005)
Park’s Conclusion Revenge trilogy may be the weakest, but there is still something to marvel at. In the third installment of the unofficial trilogy, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) is wrongfully imprisoned for murder and separated from her child, and upon her release, she tracks down the real killer. Choi Min Sik reunited with Park for another terrific performance; he plays the sick schoolteacher Mr. Baek, whose success is one of the film’s strong points. Despite a thrilling start and gruesome ending, it’s a shame that the middle of the film is rather messy. The non-linear storyline can get quite messy and the meandering pace often fails to stay focused. With lady revengePark ends his trilogy in a decent, if slightly disappointing way.
7. Common Security Area (2000)
Common security area launched Park’s languid filmmaking career. A moving thriller based on the novel by Park Sang Yeon, it is a deadly shooting in the DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone), the border that separates North Korea and South Korea. Park allows the mystery to unfold slowly, but it remains captivating thanks to the captivating performances of Lee Byung-hunLee Young-ae (from lady revenge), and the always reliable Song Kang-ho. The truth is revealed in a brilliantly intense scene, and the finale is heartbreakingly powerful. Park directs the film superbly and garnered several notable accolades for its theatrical debut. The film made a huge impact in Korea and became the highest-grossing film in its history upon its release. It’s a solid entry into Park’s impressive filmography, but it was just the beginning for him. Better films would follow.
6. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
After the success of Common security areaPark had creative freedom on his next project. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a gritty and unapologetically violent thriller that sees Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), a deaf-mute factory worker, takes a magnate’s daughter hostage for ransom in order to pay for her sister’s kidney transplant. With his girlfriend Yeong-mi (Bae Doona), they succeed in the kidnapping, but disastrous consequences ensue. Park delivers exhilarating plot twists and performs some of the most gruesome violence cinema has ever seen. A landmark in Korean arthouse cinema, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance remains a cruel and hard thriller. Park developed his visual style and first established his recurring revenge theme with this film. He also reunited with Song for the second time, and the distinguished South Korean actor once again delivered a magnificent performance.
5. Driver (2013)
Park’s only English film to date, Driver is a psychological thriller influenced by Hitchcock’s masterpiece shadow of a doubt. After the sudden death of her father, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) stays alone with her mother (Nicole Kidman) until the arrival of his charming Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). Park’s lavish visuals blend beautifully with vicious brutality, and the way it conveys a fairytale atmosphere is mesmerizing. Park gets playful and creative with his directing – especially in a striking transition from Kidman’s brushed hair to windswept grass. The brilliant way he creates tension is comparable to Hitchcock himself. With subtle performances and exceptional direction, Park’s first effort away from Korean cinema was a triumph.
4. I’m a Cyborg, But It’s Okay (2006)
Arguably Park’s most unique film, i am a cyborg is an offbeat romantic tragicomedy with minimal violence. At the time of its release, Park was highly praised for trying something different, and it has since remained a favorite among his fans. i am a cyborg is the best example of Park’s humor that remains mostly dark despite the colorful aesthetic. Most of the film takes place in a mental institution where two unstable patients fall in love. Cha Younggoon (Lim Soo-jung) believes she is a cyborg, and Park Il-sun (Rain) believes he can steal the souls of others. Witty and bizarre, this entirely original genre mashup wasn’t one of Park’s biggest box office hits, but it’s a surreal love story that delivers a beautifully bittersweet ending. . Some may consider this Park’s failed experiment, but others will find it to be quite a fascinating experiment.
3. Thirst (2009)
Soaked in atmosphere and blood, The thirst is a vampire tale like no other. Park reunited with Song for the fourth time for arguably their best collaboration. Song plays a Catholic priest who inadvertently becomes a vampire after a failed medical experiment. As he comes to terms with his uncontrollable bloodlust, he befriends the handsome Tae-ju (Kim Ok Bin). Next i am a cyborg, Park once again showed his affinity for weird love stories. Park’s sleek direction is delightfully dreamlike, and his signature dark humor dramatically elevates the film. Clever, disturbing and inimitable, The thirst is undoubtedly one of his finest works.
2. Old Boy (2003)
The second – and easily the best – instillation from Park’s Revenge trilogy is a crazy thrill ride that hooks the audience from the first minute. The heart-pounding Palme d’Or-nominated action-thriller follows Oh Dae-su’s (Choi Min Sik) frantic search for his captor after his release from being imprisoned for 15 years. Filled with jaw-dropping action sequences – including a phenomenal single fight scene in a hallway – Old boy is much more than a revenge film with its incredible reinterpretations of Greek tragedies. Park delivers unwavering brutality and jaw-dropping twists with pinpoint control. There have since been two attempts at a remake – including one led by Spike Lee in 2013 – but neither came close to Park’s masterpiece.
1. The Servant (2016)
Inspired by Sarah Waters2002 novel finger cot, The servant is a large-scale romantic thriller. Park made drastic changes to Waters’ novel and transported it from Victorian England to Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s. Lasting 145 minutes, the epic story is told in three parts, each more magnificent than the last. Sook-hi (Tae Ri Kim), a poor pickpocket, is hired as a servant by the Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min Hee). However, a seedy trickster known as Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung Woo) hatched a plan to use Sook-hee to marry Hideko in order to steal his inheritance. Park superbly explores the class division and problematic attitudes of men towards women at the time. Fujiwara embodies most of these attitudes for how he believes he can use Sook-hee and Hideko as puppets solely for his own advancement in wealth and society. Park’s tremendous exploration of themes such as betrayal, identity and, of course, revenge results in a powerful message of female strength. The many flashbacks could have easily made the film shocking, but Park ensures it remains cohesive and, best of all, compelling. Complete with beautiful images and flawless performance, The servant is Park’s best work to date.