After hitting big with his "Infernal Affairs" trilogy and a live action reworking of "Initial D," director Andrew Lau hopped over to South Korea to make "Daisy," an action thriller/romance combo with an all-star cast that became one of the most highly anticipated Asian titles of late, an anticipation that fizzled upon its release earlier this year.
Looking at the film, it's easy to see why it fizzled; "Daisy," as it originally appeared in Korean theaters, is sloppy and rushed, shoving too many ideas into too little time, leaving its sharper moments to crumble under audience apathy and confusion. But then we see Lau's director's cut, which is nearly a half hour longer, and which rearranges many key scenes, including a complete restructuring of the story's opening and a slight but important alteration to the finale, and we discover a film that not only works, but works wonders. Characters are given a chance to grow, dialogue is given a chance to breathe, situations are given a chance to unfold in a more effective manner. Here, then, is a prime example of how editing alone can make or break a film. The theatrical cut of "Daisy" is a clumsy dud; the director's cut, a marvel.
Let's look at the director's cut first. Jun Ji-Hyun ("My Sassy Girl," "Il Mare") plays Hye-Young, a mousy street painter living in Amsterdam, working days at her grandfather's antique shop, spending afternoons in the courtyard among the other sketch artists looking for a few dollars from tourists eager for a portrait. One afternoon she meets Jeong-Woo (Lee Sung-Jae of "Public Enemy"), who sits for her but rushes off too soon, promising to return tomorrow. And he does. And the next day, too, and so on, and soon the two have fallen in love, as we knew they would, considering the eager flirting and the romantic music on the soundtrack. We then learn that Hye-Young has a secret admirer who has been sending her daisies, a link to a mysterious connection to her favorite getaway place, a far away field littered with her favorite flowers. ("Gogh drew sunflowers. I drew daisies.") Ah, but if Jeong-Woo is not the sender of the daisies, then who is?
This opening takes a full half hour to unfold, and you may be wondering where the "action thriller" part of the film has been hiding. What Lau, screenwriter Kwak Jae-Young, and the editing staff (four are credited) have done here is work on building character and story first. They set up the characters' tale slowly, allowing their budding romance to unfold in such a way that we can't help but cheer them on, and only when both have finally become comfortable with each other and we can see them as a couple does the film reveal its true intentions, telling us who Jeong-Woo is and who's been sending the flowers. In fact, with any other film, I'd refuse to tell any more, as what follows would be considered major spoilers best experienced for oneself.
And yet they are not surprises, as these very revelations are also the opening scenes of the theatrical cut. In that version, we meet the real sender of the flowers before we meet Hye-Young herself. He is Park-Yi (Jung Woo-Sung, "Musa the Warrior"), and he is a professional killer. Which makes the potential for a love triangle so dangerous: Jeong-Woo is an agent for Interpol, working in Amsterdam to bust a Korean crime syndicate.
Compare the two versions. In the theatrical edit, we learn of Hye-Young first, only to rush through his story in order to get to the darker, violent aspects of the script. This version places the thrills and the danger up front: we see Hye-Young the assassin in action very early, setting a tone of action. The problem, then, is that this is not an action movie. Yes, there are action-thriller elements, including two large shoot-outs, but these come in the context of a slower, more personal story. As such, those settling in with the early scenes of a hit men at work will quickly become disappointed that the rest of the movie fails to follow suit.
Now watch the director's cut, which plays more with the timeline, allowing the story to fold over on itself in fascinating ways. Guns are not shown for a full thirty minutes, letting us grow more attached to the Hye-Young/Jeong-Woo romance. Here, the story builds in terms of character, allowing the mysteries behind the players to unfold more naturally, more lyrically, more effectively. We don't even see Park-Yi until that half hour mark, and even then, he remains an enigma, not revealing his side of the story until even later in the film. We're led to view him as the villain, only to be asked to reconsider in a manner that catches our attention more completely. By showing all its cards up front, the theatrical cut loses the story's main hook: ambiguity.
Beyond that, however, the scenes simply play better in the director's cut. Again, we look at Park-Yi's introduction. In the director's cut, he provides a lengthy, rather beautiful bit of narration explaining his circumstances: "I am a man who always smells of gunpowder. Maybe my soul also smells of it." He explains how he came to work with flowers as soil takes away the smell and provides a calming escape from his brutal profession; that, in turn, led him to Hye-Young and daisies. In the theatrical cut, this scene is truncated, offering only a single line about the gunpowder and the soil, thus removing the very essence of the scene. Worse, by now placing this scene before all else, we have no emotional connection to the object of Park-Yi's affection. The scene carries no weight. In the director's cut, with this scene moved to the middle of the film, we know understand his situation, as we, too, have fallen under Hye-Young's inescapable charms. There is also a sense of pity at play with the scene moved to its later point, as we have already seen the consequences of Park-Yi's actions (although we have yet to discover their reasons) and can more fully appreciate the inner pain of a man who must be alone falling in love despite himself.
In both versions, the majority of the middle section plays out roughly the same, but coming off different lead-ins, the result is wildly different. As Park-Yi and Jeong-Woo meet, the theatrical cut makes this all seem a bit ridiculous; we have little invested in the characters and so their scenes together don't connect with us at all. In the director's version, however, we've spent so much time with these men separately that their eventual connection does indeed sit strongly with us.
And while a few of the remaining scenes seem to drag in both edits, it's the director's cut once again that allows the gradual build-up to an emotionally charged finale (which in turn leads to an all-out shoot-'em-up action sequence), as the reasons behind the violence feel more complete. The director's cut also eliminates one key shot near the end that allows for a bit of uncertainty, and adds in one line of dialogue in the dreamy epilogue that pretty much reworks the entire epilogue's meaning (adding just a pinch more of that uncertainty). Right up to the end, Lau's version of the film is a more complete, more emotional, more effective telling of the story.
It does, however, have its share of problems. The romantic music score is overplayed to a fault, there's an entire flashback montage near the finale that plays like a lousy music video (bringing the picture to a screeching halt), and there's a heap of ridiculousness that washes over the entire picture - this is, after all, a love story involving a cop, a hit man, and a woman who seems to take "he's a killer" revelations in stride. And yet Lau and his crew do such a fine job of setting up the characters and the story that we're ultimately drawn into their lives with a heavy amount of emotional investment, and as such we're willing to forgive the clumsier aspects of the plot. The performances are strong all around, each star knowing exactly how best to play the more enigmatic sides of the story, and how best to reach out and get us to care about these people. "Daisy" is a film granted a second chance, and that second chance proves well worth it. Lau's ultimate vision of the story turns out to be sweet, haunting, and powerful.
The disc reviewed here is the Region 3 Korean Director's Cut Edition release from Taewon Entertainment; it will only play on region-compatible sets. As of this writing, no Region 1 release is available.
This three-disc set contains both edits of "Daisy," each on its own disc, plus a third disc of bonus features. The discs are housed in a gorgeous digipak box with thick card stock and an interior magnet which keeps the whole thing closed; that then is placed inside a thin decorative slipcover.
My only complaint with this packaging is that the set includes a mini photo album, but this album is not housed within the box set itself - it's just added in on the side. Compulsive types like myself who wish to keep everything together will be unable to do so. Other than that, however, this is a beautiful box.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) presentation is downright beautiful on both versions. Lau, who serves as his own cinematographer, paid careful attention to visuals and color schemes, and on disc, his vision shines through.
For the director's cut, you can pick between Dolby 5.1 Surround and DTS; on the theatrical cut, Dolby 5.1 is the only choice. All versions sound terrific, so for the director's cut, it's really just a matter of your own personal preference. Optional subtitles are available in both Korean and English.
We start off with a commentary track from Jun and Jung on the director's cut. (The theatrical version has no commentary.) No subtitles are provided for this track.
The rest of the extras are compiled on the third disc and are divided into three sections: "A Street Painter," "A Killer," and "An Interpol."
"Making Film" (18:49) is a promotional behind-the-scenes featurette (possibly made for television). It's heavy on the hype and uses an abundance of screen graphics to add a bit of preview pizzazz.
"Interview 1" (29:10) combines separate interviews featuring Lau and Jun with scenes from the film and behind-the-scenes footage. The film's musical score is overused here, often obscuring the interviews themselves, and late in the clip, Jun's interview becomes a bit too inaudible due to background noise. Lau speaks in Cantonese, and so removable Korean subtitles are included here.
"Behind the Scenes (Play Instinct)" (7:25) uses behind-the-scenes video footage to present various on-set silliness. Pranks, goofing off, that sort of thing.
"Daisy Staff" (5:45) presents just that, a series of interviews and other footage with the movie's crew. Be warned: the last shot of this featurette was apparently captured using a camcorder's built-in microphone, which gets overwhelmed with everyone happily screaming - things get loud and distorted very quickly.
"Gun Fight & Story" (7:15) mixes footage of the making of the shoot-out scenes with that of the film's stars learning how to properly and safely use prop guns.
"Interview 2: (11:17) features Jung and David Chiang (listed here as John Chiang), who plays the crime lord in the picture. This time, much of Jung's interview is hard to hear, as it was filmed during what appears to be a press day, with several paparazzi screaming at him throughout his chat.
"Poster Shooting Place" (9:51) is a slickly produced collection of footage taken during the photo shoot for the movie's poster and additional promotional imagery.
"Behind the Scene - In the Killer's Shoot" (6:17) sounds dangerous, but it's really just a hodgepodge of camcorder footage taken behind the scenes. We watch Jun learn to paint, Jung learn how to operate a Steadycam, that sort of thing.
"Night of Daisy" (9:57) is one of the disc's most useless additions. It's footage of a promotional premiere event, and although we watch as the filmmakers and stars prepare for several Q&A sessions, we don't get to see them. (Well, we get brief excerpts from one, but the audio is so lousy that we can't hear a single word anybody's saying.) The rest is a montage of the stars answering questions and signing autographs while the film's theme music plays.
"Interview 3" (9:24) gives us Lee and Chun Ho-Jin, who plays Jeong-Woo's boss. Audio is better here than in the other interview featurettes, but only barely.
"Press Release & VIP Previews" (4:10) commits the same sin as "Night of Daisy" - it's mostly clips of the stars talking, but we're not allowed to hear what they say. If you're going to show the cast and crew sitting down for a chat session but not let us hear any of it, your whole feature is then useless. This time, it's footage taken from the film's press screening and advance previews. (At least we get to hear what a few folks in the audience have to say.)
"Music Video" (6:24) is a too-long presentation of various themes from the film, plus the pop song that plays over the credits, plus dialogue, all edited together over film clips.
Finally, the movie's trailer (2:30) and a still gallery (2:32) of production photos round out the disc.
No English subtitles are available for any of the extras, although aside from the interviews and a few stray bits, there's no narration and little dialogue, meaning you don't need to know Korean to follow along just fine.
In addition, as mentioned, a photo album booklet showcases the gorgeous imagery of the film. Also packaged within as a nice final touch is a set of three frames from a film print of the movie, held in a piece of lovely card stock.
A couple of completely useless featurettes aside, this is a fantastic set. By presenting both versions of the film, not only does Taewon score points with purists who prefer to have both edits, but they also provide an opportunity for a valuable lesson in filmmaking. Here we have two versions of one story; one works, the other doesn't, and comparing both can show you why. This set is as complete as anyone could want, and Lau's final version is an underappreciated wonder, leaving this Director's Cut Edition to become part of the DVD Talk Collector Series. The lack of English subtitles on the supplemental material may put off some from importing, but I highly doubt that when this title finally does make its way onto a Region 1 disc, it won't be nearly as impressive a presentation as what we have here. This is a perfect reason for you to get your hands on a multi-region player, and now.