Cult cinema has always held a special place in my interest in films. Maybe it is the daring subjects, stylistic editing, or maybe it is the way in which these films are strangely relatable, even when they are not supposed to. See below clip for a brilliantly crafted exposition of the Faces of Cult: a mirror, a looking glass that magically looks back.
One example of this bewildering world that is Cult is the Korean film Oldboy (2003). Ruthlessness, violence and perverse ethics can all be simultaneously found in this gem of a film. Interestingly, I learned about this movie from my dad, granted this is not the kind of heart-warming family movie a father would introduce to their kids. Also granted my dad is not a typical father. So there I was, spending a Saturday night having a somewhat horrifying (yet rewarding) movie-viewing experience with my dad.
This film is outrageously twisted, breaking all sorts of taboos. To those who are not comfortable with teeth-pulling, you probably would want to check out some more lighthearted films. With its unusual graphic scenes, the film is successful in challenging the audience their visual tolerance, as well as the ethical standards we uphold in the present-day culture. Violence in films, when well used, can be a cinematic device to drive plot and move the thematic development forward. Films of Quentin Tarantino are a perfect example of using exaggerated and unrealistic violence as a device to draw attention to the needless brutality in the subject matter of his films like the Holocaust or racism. It is a mockery directed at us viewers how desensitized we are of the bloodshed on screen, and off.
The violence in Oldboy serves as a connecting chord to invite the audience into the mind of a man who is imprisoned for 15 years in a rundown hotel room for no apparent reason, a man who is on the brink of insanity. No sane man would fight like Oh Dae-su. It allows the viewers to peek into the unthinkable world of a psychologically unstable mind and shows what happens when such a mind is spun out of control. These are definitely not just cheap thrills for entertainment.
Cult cinema probes questions that are we are uncomfortable to ask or answer. It reaches into the deep abyss of our human nature, placing us in the choices of the characters on screen. There is this point in Oldboy where the protagonist roars in painful agony to choose between two equally difficult paths, and as the viewer you are simultaneously forced to decide the path that you would take. No matter how you respond, you will be haunted forever by the road not taken.
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”