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Lady Vengeance (2005)
The latest film from Park Chan-wook is the final part of his revenge trilogy and is another cracking film, though less about the vengeance and more about the Jeunet.
ARTICLE INFOAs a high-school girl, Lee Geum-Ja (Lee Yeong-ae - Joint Security Area) is wrongfully jailed for the shocking abduction and murder of a child. After thirteen years as a model prisoner, she is released back into the world and begins to gather together her fellow ex-convicts in an elaborate revenge against the man who put her in prison, Mr Baek (Choi Min-sik - Oldboy).
Lady Vengeance (2005)
film by Park Chan-wook
rated 8.0/10 by 1 person
Of all the Korean directors who have come to prominence outside of their home country in recent years, Park is the most adept at creating stylish and entertaining films that bridge the often gaping abyss between art-house and popcorn cinema. Following Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and Oldboy, Lady Vengeance forms the third and final part of his revenge trilogy, and is another confidently directed effort that examines the idea of using violence as a means to achieve redemption.
Park has said that this film was made as a reaction to the previous parts of the trilogy, a combination of the two distinct styles used, along with a female lead to try and make up for his dissatisfaction with the female characters in his earlier films. And so on first viewing, these differences are palpable and may even cause dissatisfaction. The violence shown is not explicit, often taking place off-camera, and the revenge aspect is less elaborate than one might expect, despite taking place over a long period of time. It is also different in nature, planned by a single person but achieved by collaboration.
Lady Vengeance is about the transformation of Geum-ja, from shining angel of innocence to cold demon of retribution. This emotional journey is torturous and soul-destroying, and Lee Yeong-ae carries a role that blows away public perception of her as a dainty innocent from her Korean television days. As the villain and supporting actor of the piece, Choi Min-sik as Mr Baek almost steals the film from under Lee Yeong-ae's nose, but in the end this is her film and she gives a superb performance.
As always with Park's films, Lady Vengeance is beautifully shot but is a stylistic advance on what has come before, with creative transitions between scenes and a visual style that is reminiscent of Amelie. No, really. When you consider the subject of both films, the comparison seems insane but they have a lot in common, which leads me to speculate on how a romantic comedy directed by Park would look...
In fact, on the face of things, this film is more of a black comedy than a revenge drama. Throughout are little touches of wry humour (also a little Amelie-esque), leading up to the final confrontation between Geum-ja and Mr Baek which is absolutely hilarious. This does detract a little from the pathos of the final scene, but not to the same degree as A Bittersweet Life, and the conflicting emotional response to the film works. You'll find yourself disturbed, horrified, and amused during the film and at several stages it might be a case of all three at the same time.
The only minor criticism that can be levelled at the film is that it does go on for fractionally too long. Also, the scene featuring Geum-ja, her daughter and Mr Baek falls a little flat simply because of translation issues. Geum-ja explains in Korean why she has to kill Mr Baek, and Mr Baek is forced at gun-point to translate into English for her daughter's benefit. It was more the repetition of the words, first as sub-titles for Geum-ja and then as spoken English from Mr Baek, that made the scene drag on, but also the feeling that Korean-speaking members of the audience were being treated to a joke that was flying over the heads of everyone else.
On the vengeance scale, it's not as good as Oldboy but that is simply a reflection of how highly I regard that film. Though it features a woman out for revenge against a man who was wronged her, this is no Kill Bill and for that we should all be thankful. There are no gun-fights, kung-fu brawls, explosions nor is there excessive dialogue and a complete lack of restraint. This is another stunning and thought-provoking film from the mind of Park Chan-wook, and is an excellent example of the current crop of high quality Korean cinema that is putting other Asian and Hollywood fare to shame.