5. Vengeance Trilogy (Park Chan Wook, S. Korea)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) Lady Vengeance (2005)

The first part of the “Vengeance Trilogy” revolves around Ryu, a deaf-mute who works in a factory while he also has to take care of his sick sister, who is in desperate need of a kidney transplant.

His situation takes a turn for the even worse when the doctors inform him that he is not a suitable donor and at the same time, he is fired from his job. Utterly desperate, he decides to search in the black market for a kidney, and although he manages to find some people who can help him, they prove to be con men who eventually take all of his compensation and one of his own kidneys, and leave him injured and naked in an unknown building. Seeing Ryu in this situation, his anarchist girlfriend, Yeong-mi, suggests kidnapping the daughter of his boss, Dong-jin, who has laid off many workers from his factory.

Park presented the extremes an individual can reach when they find themselves in desperate situations. Revenge, the central theme of the film, results from the aforementioned situations and is presented in four axes. Ryu wants to exact revenge from those who tricked him. Yeong-mi wants to exact revenge from the ‘Capital’.

Dong-jin wants to exact revenge from those who kidnapped his daughter. Yeong-min’s fellow terrorists want to exact revenge for their comrade. In this fashion, Park wanted to present the futility of revenge, as all of the aforementioned succeed in their purpose but gain nothing from it.

Shin Ha-kyun as Ryu, Bae Doona as Cha Yeong-mi and Song Kang-ho as Dong-jin are all magnificent in their respective parts. Particularly the first two have very difficult parts, since Ha-kyun does not speak at all and Doona had to speak and to use sign language at the same time; however, they delivered to the fullest.

The third part of the “Vengeance Trilogy” presents the theme of revenge from a female point of view.

The script revolves around Geum-ja, a woman found guilty for the kidnapping and murder of a child, who has waited patiently in prison for 13 years in order to avenge the man responsible for most of the evils in her life. While there, she managed to present an utterly benevolent persona, whose sole purpose was to make the friends needed for the intricate plan she has conceived. After her release, she exploits those acquaintances, but as she is about to fulfill her purpose, she realizes that the truth is much worse than she imagined.

Park focused on a female character this time, and created a unique amalgam of black humor; blasphemous irony; extreme violence, which at times, is turned on children; and liberating humanism, chiefly depicted in the final sequence of collective revenge.

The fact that ordinary people can turn into sadistic murderers presents Park’s message regarding revenge: sometimes, vengeance through violence is the only way to true catharsis. In order to justify this philosophy, he paints the evil character with the most gruesome colors, to a point that any action against him is deemed worthy, and even fair.

Lee Young-ae is spectacular in the titular character, with the overwhelming majority of the film being based upon her. Her transformation from a victim, to a “saint,” to a vigilante, and finally to an ordinary (of sorts) woman is probably the film’s greatest asset. Choi Min-sik is, once more, quite persuasive as the embodiment of pure evil, although his part is quite small. He certainly deserves an award for the things Park made his characters go through in the last two films of the trilogy.

Buy This Title

4. Noriko Trilogy (Yasuhiro Ozu, Japan)

Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951), Tokyo Story (1953)

“Late Spring” tells the story of Shukichi Somiya, a man who has dedicated his whole life into his studies, neglecting his daughter, Noriko, completely, with the woman additionally having to take care of the house and him. Eventually, he realizes his fault, and tries to persuade the dedicated Noriko to abandon the family house and start her own family, and life.

Ozu paints the portrait of the “middle” Japanese family with a realism that borders on the documentary, as he depicts the everyday life of the members of an almost archetypical family of the country. Equally obvious are the conservatism and the dedication to traditional Japanese values, as dictated by the Occupation’s official censorship board.

The cinematography is impressive, with the camera almost never moving, as it is placed on the eye-level of a person sitting on a tatami mat. Furthermore, Ozu only uses one lens, a 50mm, which he said was the closest to the human eye. All of the above have the same purpose, which is to give the audience a feeling as if they’re an actual part of the film.

“Early Summer” also deals with the concept of family, as he presents a tight and strict household, consisting of Shukichi and Shige, the elderly parents, Noriko, a 28-year-old daughter who works as a secretary, and her brother’s family. The balance of the family is put in jeopardy when an uncle arrives and suggests that Noriko should be married.

Ozu directs a film about the role of the woman in the rapidly changing Japanese society of the 50’s, where women were “allowed” for the first time to think for themselves regarding their domestic life, and take their own decisions. The conservatism is still here and presented through the consequences of  Noriko’s decision.

“Tokyo Story,” Yasujiro Ozu’s magnum opus is considered one of the most genuine Japanese films of all time, and in 2012, filmmakers voted it the best film of all time, replacing “Citizen Kane” at the top of the “Sight & Sound” directors’ poll.

Ozu directs a film that has an evident predilection toward the traditional values of Japanese society, in contrast to the new values resulting from the raging modernization of Japan in the decades after the war. In that fashion, the elderly couple seems happy and filled with love, compared to their kids’ families that seem tortured by issues caused by modern society.

However, Ozu avoided melodrama by focusing on images rather than dialogue, in order to express his view. There are three main characteristics of Ozu’s cinematography. The first is the placement of the camera three feet above the floor (the eye level of a Japanese person seated on a tatami mat), in order to eliminate space and make a two-dimensional space.

The purpose of this technique is to make the audience feel as if they are actually participating in the film, thus becoming more receptive to the characters.

The second is that he almost never moves the camera, since every shot is intended to have a perfect composition of its own. In fact, in “Tokyo Story”, it only moves once. The third is that, during the dialogues, Atsuta places his camera between the people conversing, to make the audience feel like they are standing in the middle of a conversation.

All of these techniques are implemented with this film, in the most wonderful fashion

Buy These Titles

3. Informal Trilogy (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong)

Days Of Being Wild (1990), In The Mood For Love (2000), 2046 (2004)

In “Days of Being Wild”, the script is set in 1960’s Hong Kong and tells the story of a number of individuals and their romantic relationships. Yuddy meets Su Lizhen in a stadium’s snack bar and has a passing affair with her. Later on he meets a stripper named Mimi and his best friend, Zeb, falls in love with her. In the meantime, Su Lizhen meets a police officer named Tide.

Wong Kar Wai bases his film upon Yuddy, Leslie Cheung’s character, who once again plays a cold and self-centered character, who is unable to commit to a relationship and tends to dismiss his girlfriends without caring for their hurt feelings.

However, through his relationship with his adopted mother, a prostitute set on keeping the identity of his biological mother a secret, his character becomes likable as usual. Moreover, his character is the one that instigates all the relationships appearing in the film.

“In The Mood for Love is set In 1962 Hong Kong, in a building with rented rooms, Chow and his neighbor, Su discover that their spouses, who are frequently absent supposedly due to professional reasons, are having an affair with each other. This particular discovery brings them very close as they try to understand what drove their significant others to adultery.

Wong Kar Wai directs a movie about two lonely individuals that experience solitude inside their marriage. Their resolution toward their discovery is to attempt to do the same, in an atypical and hurtful effort at reenactment. Although they have sworn not to be led to the same situation, they are both hurt and feel the need to comfort each other. However, everything seems to be against them; the gossip and reprimands from their proprietor and even their own selves as they seem to be drowning in guilt.

Furthermore, he focuses almost exclusively on his two protagonists, with the rest of the characters being just shadows. Both Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung deliver in an astonishing fashion in this lyrical ode to unfulfilled passion.

In “2046”, Journalist Chow Mo Wan writes a novel titled “2046”, the year when the passengers of an unusual train travel in search of their lost memories. It is a story that uses the future as the point of return to Chow’s past, one he cannot leave behind, and ends up as a trip where each stop represents a woman in his life. In an evident connection with “In the Mood for Love”, his biggest love was named Su Li Zhen, in a relationship that never actually materialized. The trip on the train is actually a search for this woman.

“2046” is a gorgeous film, a fact stressed by the physical presence of its protagonists, Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li and Maggie Cheung. The first one has the most demanding role, presenting a character whose sarcastic attitude, bleak manners and devious smile appear only to hide his weaknesses and his perpetual lack of fulfillment.

Furthermore, “2046” stands apart due to its ingenious cinematography, with the film being shot almost exclusively in interior spaces, a tactic used to clearly depict the entrapment of the protagonists inside their own emotional world.

Buy These Titles

2. Apu Trilogy (Satyajit Ray, India)

Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956) The World of Apu (1959)

The first part of the “Apu Trilogy” is the first from independent India to attract major international critical attention; it won India’s National Film Award for Best Feature Film in 1955, the Best Human Document award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, and several other awards, establishing Satyajit Ray as one of the country’s most distinguished filmmakers.

The trilogy tells the story of Apu, starting with his childhood in the beginning of the 20th century, in a small Bengali village. His father is a priest and a poet, but does not make enough money to support the family, with the burden falling on his mother, who also has to deal with the old aunt living with them.

In the second film, Apu is ten–years old and lives in Benares, until he moves into a small village with his mother and aunt. Being a very good student, he eventually wins a scholarship for a college in Kolkata, but his mother finds it very hard to let him go.

In the third part, Apu has left his school days behind him, and dreams of becoming an author. When a friend from college invites him to a wedding in a village, his life changes forever.

The Apu Trilogy is considered one of the most influential works of all time, with the depiction of the lives of the Bengali being impressively realistic, to the point of occasionally functioning as a documentary.

One of the films’ biggest traits is their black-and-white cinematography from Subrata Mitra, a still photographer who did his first work in cinema on this film, even having to borrow a 16mm. Despite his inexperience, his cinematography is extremely effective, particularly in natural environments, like forests, rivers, in a pond, the monsoon, and more.

Among the many impressive scenes that take place in the three films, despite the shoestring budget, one definitely stands out as a true classic moment: the one where the mother is watching over her feverish child, while rain and wind hit the small house from all sides, with the threat becoming evident from every aspect, in a truly agonizing sequence.

Buy This Title

1. The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi, Japan)

No Greater Love (1959), Road To Eternity (1959) A Soldier’s Prayer (1961)

The trilogy is based on the six-volume, autobiographical novel by Junpei Gomikawa, published from 1956 to 1958. It is considered one of the masterpieces of world cinema and established Masaki Kobayashi as one of the most important directors of the “Golden Age” of Japanese cinema.

The trilogy follows the Sisyphean life of Kaji, a pacifist and socialist who finds himself repeatedly crushed by the totalitarian Japanese regime of the World War II era, as he tries to avoid becoming an actual soldier.

His odyssey starts from a Manchurian POW camp, where he tries to bring justice to the Chinese POW’s, who suffer miserably in the hands of the Japanese authorities. His superiors fight him at every step, as he deals with corruption and the inhumanity of the army.

Next, he is sent to the front, where he is placed in charge of the new recruits. Here, his main opponent is the veterans, who do not seem to stop torturing the new recruits and Kaji himself. The situation becomes even worse when they have to actually face the Russian army.

In the last part of the trilogy, he is in charge of a band of army survivors, as they try to reach the border to south Manchuria. Their trip will bring them to a village almost exclusively occupied by women, and in a Russian POW camp.

Kobayashi directs a film about existential despair and the dilemma of a man who rejects existing society, but has to remain with it. His struggle is a series of truly heroic acts, as he tries to avoid being tainted and even corrupted by the system.

Kaji is driven by compassion and a sense of justice, both of which are repeatedly proven not to have any place in the army or the war. Furthermore, he is never rewarded for his virtue, but instead is repeatedly and brutally punished, both psychologically and physically, both directly to him and indirectly, towards the people he wants to protect.

Kobayashi pulls no punches in the depiction of his subjects. According to him, not only war, but the army by itself strips individuals from any dignity, transforming them, in the process, into beasts. Kaiji’s struggle to avoid his fate is one of the most impressive and meaningful aspects of the film.

Furthermore, the Japanese people, and particularly the imperialists and military men are portrayed with the darkest colors. They are liars, thieves, greedy, unjust, drunk on authority, driven only by basic instincts, and utterly misguided, since they cannot seem to grasp their critical situation as they lose the war, despite every evident that comes their way. «Man is a mass of lust and greed» says a character in the first part, and this sentence encompasses Kobayashi’s opinion of his compatriots. His take is even more exemplified in the comparison with the Russians, who, at times are depicted as the exact opposite.

It was a very brave effort by Kobayashi to portray his people in that fashion, as Japan had not yet started to look sincerely at the country’s imperialistic past. Inevitably, it caused much controversy when it was screened.

Technically, the film exemplifies the abilities of all its technical crew, that took on a huge production, which took four years to complete and lasts for more than 9 hours.

Kobayashi’s attention to every detail, in order to present the different environments and characters as realistically as possible paid off in the end, with the film being a true ode to realism. The fact that it includes shots in military camps, a factory and a mine, small villages, forests, and during every season of the year is a clear testament to its size and the effort put by its crew.

Yoshio Miyajima in cinematography and Keichii Uraoka in editing have done a splendid job in both aspects. Chuji Kinoshita’s music artfully accompanies the visual aspect, heightening the sentiment Kobayashi wants to communicate in each scene.

As Kaji, Tatsuya Nakadai gives an astonishing performance in his first leading role, in a work that established him as one of the greatest Japanese actors of the era.

Buy This Title