Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lady Vengeance: Grade A

Lady Vengeance (2005)
Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi; Co-writer and Director Chan-wook Park. (Korean, subtitled).

This is the third and final film in director Park’s revenge trilogy. I have seen and reviewed recently Old Boy, the second in the series. In this one, a young woman (Lee) is unjustly imprisoned for the kidnapping and murder of a child. In intercut scenes we see her as a model prisoner, kind to all, and yet managing to make a prison murder look like an accident, so we know she has two faces. Upon her release, she is intent on revenge against the man who set her up (Choi), and she engages other ex-cons to help her. The final revenge involves torture and buckets of blood (this is a Tartan films release), but unlike Old Boy, the torture is not explicit and that makes those scenes watchable. So revenge is had. Or is it?

I don’t think Park really has captured the full phenomenology of revenge, either in this film or the last. When you have a psychotic serial killer, death or even torture, is not sufficient because he will never feel remorse. You can cause physical pain, but revenge is about dealing with the victim’s psychological pain, which is not satisfied by blood. In Lady Vengeance, this is acknowledged, because despite the ultimate torture and murder of the perp, the focus is on the families of the murdered boys. They get their pound of flesh, but are they satisfied? The perfect revenge movie has yet to be made.

However, Lady Vengeance is well worth watching because it is beautifully shot and creative, well-acted and masterfully directed. The music is wonderful, classical notes setting a calm tone that only heightens the story’s mood of desperation. There was also a stunningly beautiful vocal piece in there that may have been from Orfeo and Euridice, the opera. My main complaints are that the narrative was jumbled by aggressive time slicing, making it often confusing, and that there are at least two anti-climactic endings, the final one being especially superfluous (although beautiful to look at). So overall, this is a beautifully made film that also makes you think.

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