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[DVD Review] ‘The Butcher:’ Movie-Making is Butchery
The ultra-violent film may be a sick joke on filmmaking
Kyu Hyun Kim (qhyunkim)     Print Article 
Published 2010-01-11 14:59 (KST)   
"The Butcher," directed by Kim Jin-won, is an ultra-low-budget horror film that almost entirely takes place in an abandoned pigsty, with the cast consisting of seven people. The main victims, a husband and wife couple, are about to be killed off due to troubles involving private loan. Unfortunately for them, the hired killers are a three-man movie production team, complete with a "lead actor" wearing a pig's head mask (a la "Motel Hell") and chugging an electric chainsaw. And they are having trouble coming up with the ways to "creatively" maim, mutilate and ever so slowly kill their victims...

©2010 Palisades Tartan

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One of the controversial "midnight screening" entries for the 2007 Pucheon Film Festival, "The Butcher" is a straight-forward torture porn, the kind of film that will never become a subject of conversation in a polite company. There are zero character developments, acting is amateurish, and the production is alarmingly threadbare, although the gory makeup effects are technically accomplished, given what appears to be the $250 production budget. As for the visuals, director Kim and DP Lee Sang-hyun have come up with a moderately ingenious idea-- strapping a portable HD video camera to each victim's head. More than a little goofy, this setup allows some interesting cross-cutting between the main victim's frantic footage and one shot through the "director's" hand-held camcorder. It does get a bit headache-inducing after a while, but the gimmick does enhance the subjective sense of despair and panic when our POV is essentially fused to that of the main victim.

The movie is not exactly moving or even particularly clever, but I found the proceedings surprisingly engrossing, especially if the whole thing is read as a very sick joke on the process of filmmaking, with a hideously pretentious yet totally incompetent director heaping abuse on his crew, his "star" and his supporting players, whom he literally treats as "cattle." His annoying bon mots and mock-serious "directorial comments" ("In order to make a crowd-pleasing movie, we must kill a bad guy at the end. That's what the audience wants!") eventually become far more dreadful than the tortures and mutilations perpetrated on the victims. This undercurrent of self-reflexivity does not exactly make the film profound, but it does leave open the room for interpreting "The Butcher" as a seriously twisted black comedy.

©2010 Palisades Tartan

While "The Butcher" does not stint on finger-chopping gore or acts of heinous brutality, it is not easy to determine just how extreme the film is. It's definitely not a mainstream material, banned as it is from the non-festival theatrical release in South Korea and easily a candidate for NC-17 rating stateside. Those who have found the "Saw" series or "Captivity" unwatchably violent are well-advised to stay away. On the other hand, those who have survived and even appreciated films like Eric Stanze's "Scrapbook" or Douglas Buck's "Family Portrait: A Trilogy of America" might find "The Butcher" conceptually less than shocking, even tame, by comparison.

All in all, I was prepared to consign it to the trashcan after obliging a look, but instead found it oddly compelling, even humorous in an admittedly perverse way. Moreover, "The Butcher" avoids what most torture porns do, that is, encouraging the audience to take sadistic pleasure in tormenting other human beings for no good reason, all the while hypocritically pretending to denounce such atrocious behaviors. Here the camera's point of view is mostly that of the victim, and that's gotta be worth something in today's low-budget horror scene, full of cynical corporate products masquerading as brutally honest exposes of the human malaise.

DVD Presentation:

Palisade Tartan. NTSC. Dual Layer. Region 1. Audio: Korean (Dolby Digital Stereo). 1 hour 13 minutes. Subtitles: English. Supplement: Making-of Still Gallery, Poster Still Gallery, Trailer, Alternative Ending. Retail Price $19.99. Street Date: October 27, 2009.

©2010 Palisades Tartan

Palisade Tartan's revived Asian Extreme label is no doubt happy to have beaten other companies in securing the rights to this inexpensive production which they must assume, probably correctly, to be more bang for buck than most genre films recently coming out of East Asia. The scenes inserted in the menu suggest a terribly grainy, badly filmed 16-mm print but what actually unfolds on screen is a surprisingly clean and professional-looking HD video transfer. Other than obviously deliberate distortions on some video footage, the "helmet-cam" and hand-held camcorder visuals appear almost too slick to be convincing as random, unedited recordings of real-life carnage. Black levels are stable and there are no glaringly noticeable artifacts. The same thing can be said for the audio, which "realistically" captures the echoing boom of the voices spoken inside the pigsty but otherwise sounds professionally cleaned-up. Overall the DVD looks and sounds perfectly in line with the original intentions of the filmmakers.

The supplement is not that exciting, although considering the nature of the film not surprising. An audio commentary by director Kim and/or crew and cast members would have been nice. An alternative ending is included, which further encourages the view that the movie is a black comedy at its heart.

The English subtitles are pretty terrible and should have been re-done. Given the paucity of the dialogue, I cannot imagine re-subtitling it costing more than the entire production budget of the movie. They are the kind of over-enthusiastic, poorly "Americanized" subs that indulge in brain-dead teenage colloquialisms, make basic mistakes like rendering "Protestant minister" in the Korean dialogue as "Father," and add dollops of foul language where little of them exist in the original (The "director," to cite one example, never refers to the main victims' wife as a "whore" except in the English subs).
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Kyu Hyun Kim

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