November 29, 2014

Judgement: The Mortician of Oz

People who think they don't like Park Chan-wook, and write off the world class director as an auteur of arty torture porn, would be wise to take a look at some of his less bloody shorts, which often scale back on the violence without downplaying the gallows' humor that has become Park's thumbprint. With the early-career short "Judgement" (sp) for example -- which precedes not only his revered/reviled vengeance trilogy but also J.S.A.: Joint Security Area -- Park already exhibits a fully realized, comically macabre sensibility, a one-of-a-kind grotesque sense of humor that has gone on to earn him devoted fans -- me among them.

The action in "Judgement" takes place in a morgue. But if you assume Park is about to settle for "morbid absurdities" in this 26-minute pic, think again. The impromptu inquest that takes place in "Judgement" (which has its fair share of grim slapstick and hairpin plot twists) is occurring amid an end-of-days scenario of horrific proportions. While a mourning couple (Ko In-bae and Kwon Nam-hee) and an alcoholic diener (Gi Ju-bong) argue over the true identity of a corpse -- and the rightful claims to some substantial insurance money -- within the morgue, the world outside is being ravaged by earthquakes, tornadoes and tidal waves. The arrival of a young woman may leave you further doubting the story of some of the players here but in "Judgement," the question isn't who is lying but why anybody would be telling the truth in the first place... even a seemingly disinterested person like the TV correspondent (Choi Hak-rak).

Like all Park films, even other shorts such as his unforgettably inventive mini-documentary "If You Were Me" and his improbably slick iPhone creation "Night Fishing," "Judgement" is exquisitely shot. Park makes pictures AND tells stories, mostly this time around in cinematographer Pak Hyun-chul's somewhat newsreel-like, somewhat surveillance-camera-footage black-and-white before changing momentously to an unflattering color stock that arrives with all the shock and awe of the yellow brick road. The homage to The Wizard of Oz arrives with a catch: No one is going home this time around.

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