No actor is more revered in Korea than Choi Min-Sik. Shooting to fame for his performance as a North Korean terrorist in Shiri, the first blockbuster of the new Korean cinema, Choi Min-Sik went on to capture the attention of international audiences with his crazed, dazed, hammer-wielding performance as Oh Dal-Su in Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy. In 2006, he quit the film industry to protest American pressure on the Korean film industry, but he made a triumphant return a few years ago with Kim Ji-Woon’s I Saw the Devil. Presented in association with the Korean Cultural Service New York, we’re serving up a fistful of new and classic Choi Min-Sik performances to honor the man himself.
Set in the 80’s, Choi Min-Sik is a corrupt customs inspector whose knowledge of how to leverage personal connections and family relationships turns him into a criminal on the rise. But he’s not really a gangster, just a smart hick with a gift of the gab, turning savvy, shark-like, scared, and saggy all at the drop of a hat. And when the government begins instituting reforms the world he lives in turns into a cage of crazed predators, eating one another alive.
Unjustly neglected, this film from Ryoo Seung-Wan (The Unjust, City of Violence) is one of the most poignant, inspiring boxing movies ever made. Choi Min-Sik plays a down-on-his luck, middle-aged boxer reduced to renting himself out as a human punching bag for frustrated salarymen. The director’s brother, Ryoo Seung-Beom, is a punk with a self-destructive streak a mile wide who discovers the power of boxing in juvie lock-up. An amateur prize fight with a fat purse offers a chance to start over for both of them, but there can be only one winner, and both of them need redemption. It’s a rare movie where no matter who wins, everyone loses. (read a review)
What can be said about this Jury Prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival that might just be the most iconic movie of the New Korean Cinema. Choi Min-Sik is at his hammer-wiedling best, director Park Chan-Wook (Thirst) is firing on all cylinders, and that poor octopus who gets eaten alive will live on in motion picture history. (read a review)
Choi Min-Sik is teamed up with Hong Kong’s superstar, Cecilia Cheung, in another movie (a la Crying Fist) where the lead actors never meet. He’s a third-rate gangster who’ll do anything for a buck. She’s a Chinese immigrant who needs a marriage for business reasons. Mutual need draws them together, but fate keeps them apart. Choi Min-Sik himself insisted that we screen this, so you know it’s going to be good. (read a review)