Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

As the 342nd day of the year begins, and magazines and websites fill themselves with those extraneous “Best of” and “Worst of” the year lists, I find myself co-opting this most unoriginal of ideas and embracing the arbitrary breakpoint of one calendar year to have a look back, as I cast my jaded and bloodshot critical eyes over 2004’s movies, music, comics, books, television, current events…all manner of pop culture detritus that has floated through my thoughts in the last (almost) 12 months.

Critics always try to make connections where, often, none exist. They try to find trends where only coincidence resides. After all, they have copy to file and only a finite number of interesting things to say about any given piece of work.

Frequently, trends exist solely due to imitative behaviour. “Well, if that worked, then we should do it again and again and again, until we hammer it into the ground and suck every last penny out of it!” That’s why there are so many sequels.

2004 has seen the resurgence of the zombie film; the continuing success of the superhero movie; and the nascent birth of Hollywood’s move to remake all manner of Asia Extreme oddities (by sucking out whatever made them unique in the first place, and blanderising them in the name of Money, Money, Money).

Next year, I predict less zombie movies, more superhero movies, and a heaving warehouse full of American studio movies based on Korean and Japanese mini-classics.

But I digress. For me, THE movie genre of the year has been the full-blooded return of the Revenge Movie. And I do love to have me a good revenge movie.

The Bride’s mission finally ended in Kill Bill Vol. 2, Thomas Jane strapped on an armoury that would make the toughest mobster’s bladder void itself in The Punisher, Denzel Washington showed us a neat trick with exploding suppositories in Man on Fire, and Min-sik Choi topped that with an even neater trick with a live octopus in Oldboy.

Now, a lesser writer would try and find some tenuous connection between this surge of bloody retribution splashing in crimson arcs across cinema screens the world over. Shit like: it’s a sign of the increasing shift to the right in America. Or: it satisfies a need for catharsis stemming from the events of 9/11 and the War in Iraq.

But that’s all a bunch of crap. Tarantino has had a love affair with the revenge movie most of his life, the Marvel Comics character The Punisher dates back to the early ‘70s, the script for Man on Fire has been bouncing around Hollywood for a couple of decades, and Oldboy is the middle chapter in Chan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy that has been gestating for a while now. The fact that they all turned up at the same time is a simple matter of coincidence.

So, to that Wild Bunch of anti-heroes, to Beatrix Kiddo and Frank Castle, John Creasy and Oh Dae-Su, I salute you all and your endlessly inventive ways of dispatching evildoers. Even though not a single one of you could be excused of your own evildoings, you doomed death-dealers.

And every one of these four movies sits comfortably in my Top Ten Flicks of the year. AKA says check ‘em out.

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