The East in blood

Watch out for so-called “re-packagings” and “special editions.” They usually end up being a scam, with some last-minute crap thrown onto an extra disc to justify jacking up the price by 15 bucks.

Watch out for so-called “re-packagings” and “special editions.” They usually end up being a scam, with some last-minute crap thrown onto an extra disc to justify jacking up the price by 15 bucks.

Today marks the release of a new, uncut “Blood Bag” edition of director Takashi Miike’s ultra-violent opus Ichi the Killer. So what, if anything, makes this version of Ichi worth $34 and change? The first thing you’re greeted by is the packaging, which is literally a blood bag. That’s interesting and kind of cool, but certainly not enough to justify buying a more expensive copy of this fine film. More attractive is the uncut nature of the re-release, pledging to increase the already legendary amount of gore Ichi has to its name. The re-release bumps up the rating to an NC-17 equivalent and adds about seven minutes of content. Which isn’t so great considering that non-R versions have already been out for years. The bonus disc doesn’t contain much of note, just some interviews with crewmembers and a couple of featurettes and documentaries about the cult popularity of the movie. You also get some technical tweaks like a different aspect ratio and enhanced sound. While not horrible, this content is somewhat weak and really doesn’t come off as being worth the extra money.

Although the Blood Bag might not have much over other existing and much cheaper copies of Ichi, including other box sets, the film itself remains well worth watching. It follows a sadistic Yakuza (the guy with the slashed-and-pierced cheeks staring out from the movie’s cover) and a tortured, introverted would-be superhero through a labyrinth of decapitations, disembowelments, limb severing, and the usual Japanese gangster touchstones such as stolen yen and gang rivalries. It’s laced throughout with a wry and bizarre sense of humor, leaving many unsure of whether to laugh or vomit in their lap.

Ichi also serves as an entry point for the world of hyper-gory East Asian films, since it’s one of the most widely known because of Takashi Miike’s name. While some folks might be turned off by the myriad forms of violence displayed, others with a higher tolerance will find themselves in a whole new ball game of blood and guts that has no real competition on this side of the Pacific.

Spraying blood in the Far East

Another film that’s part of the blood-soaked canon is Battle Royale, which predates Ichi and rivals its celebrity here in the States. This film follows the travails of a class of high-schoolers who are in a sort of bizarre game-show contest, placed on a remote island and ordered to fight each other to the death. With Lord of the Flies undertones and its own fair share of carnage, Battle Royale comes off as a little more cerebral in its dealings with violence and the price of survival. Thanks to its setting, it lacks the claustrophobic feel of Ichi, whose narrow hallways and dim apartments punctuate the gore in a quite different way than Battle Royale‘s sweeping pastoral landscapes.

Hailing from South Korea, however, are arguably the finest films of the Ichi��-bred ilk, Chan-Wook Park’s “Vengeance” Trilogy. A series of three films, of which Old Boy is the most popular, the films weave the themes of vengeance and sacrifice into the stories of three people, all of whom confront violence in some way. The first film, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, sees a man attempting to secure a kidney for an ailing relative through back-alley means. Naturally, the plan goes south, leaving the otherwise mild man with few options on the table. Glorious gore ensues. Old Boy, the second of the series, finds a drunken father kidnapped and locked in a tiny hotel room for 15 years. Upon escape, he is consumed with the desire for revenge on his captor, but finds out that nothing about the outside world is as it seems. Broken limbs and severed tongues ensue, with the main character bludgeoning his way through the mystery of his imprisonment. The series is brought to a close with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. The titular Lady Vengeance is released from prison for murdering a 6-year-old, and begins to unravel the mystery of the crime she was locked up for. As she learns more and more about the murder, things start to get hairy and it ends in an orgy of blood.

What makes Park’s films stand out is the obvious craftsmanship and thought involved in their making, and the subtle ways the three films interlock as one. Although individually excellent, the three together truly shine. Coincidentally, our own Living Room Theaters downtown is showing the films together throughout this and next week, giving you a chance to get acquainted with them for the first time in ridiculous comfort. Each film has multiple showtimes per day, so if you felt up to it you could watch the three in sequence. While that might be a bit grueling, it’s definitely an event it would behoove you to attend.