The extreme violence genre is something of an enigma with regards to “what it means”. Unlike a more accessible genre of film, it’s unlikely to have a wide audience, but at the same time, is there a difference between an extreme violence film and a simple action movie other than scope? What do viewers expect to get out of a movie like Oldboy or Ichi the Killer? What about the directors? What drives them to create movies like this? These are some of the guiding questions we used to craft our marco-analysis.
For Takashi Miike, the director of Ichi the Killer, the violence does not seem excessive. Despite being banned in some countries (Norway, Malaysia) and heavily censored in others (Britain, Hong Kong), Miike sees Ichi the Killer as a cleaner alternative to the Hollywood action film, saying in an interview, “For me, putting so much blood in a movie isn’t really scary. When I watch a regular Hollywood movie like, let’s say, Dirty Harry, where the hero is killing so many people, including just bystanders, and it doesn’t really apply to anything – that’s more horrific to me.”
Miike’s comments seem at odds with the film’s Western promotion, which included specially emblazoned “barf-bags” at the Toronto Film Festival in 2001. While watching Ichi the Killer, and seeing deaths such as a man cut in half from his head to between his legs, it’s hard not to see the violence as excessive or grotesque, but Miike stresses the importance of story over images. Furthermore, he claims that his style of “up-front aggression” offers a clear morality, but “The directors whose films scare [him] the most, are the ones who carefully hide the aggression in the background, and don’t show it directly.”
To this extent, when asked about what he could never put in a film, Miike replied, “The violence in daily life could be very simple, it’s so simple that you might be disappointed to hear this… But it is like [a] car accident. It happens without any like notice or it just happens without any idea of what, why or how and when.” This final quote, tied with Miike’s others, help create a more complete picture of what Miike believes. His films, while violent to a fault, are so stylized that it’s hard to take them seriously. Furthermore, they offer clear narratives of morality, and every death shown onscreen occurs with a reason, or is brought about by an obviously villainous character. For Miike, the extremely violent is a morality play, albeit one with copious amounts of blood.
This contrasts heavily with Park Chan-Wook, director of Oldboy. Park takes a personal stance with his filmmaking, saying that his inspiration for films comes from his own life. When asked about why his films are violent, and if that too comes from himself, Park replied that he “suppressed [his] anger and hatred all [his] life” and offered it as a partial explanation for why he wanted to make a film like Oldboy. He claims that “the character’s thoughts don’t necessarily match the director’s thoughts”, which is an important idea in discussing film.
When discussing his style, Park draws a contrast between stylized, “beautiful” violence, and his own. “I try not to portray violence in a beautiful or playful way. It’s fun to watch playful violence, as in Kill Bill, but actually shooting violence in such a way, I feel conscious of guilt.” To this end, the violence in Oldboy carries a weight that Ichi the Killer perhaps doesn’t. The violence comes from a darker, inner place, and while Miike sees the pinnacle of violence to be something like a car accident, or a Hollywood hero shooting henchmen indiscriminately, Park sees it instead as the kind of laborious, visceral violence that physically ails an audience.
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