Film: Lady Vengeance
Release date: 25th January 2010 (Blu-ray – DVD released: 8th May 2006)
Running time: 115 mins
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Yeong-Ae Lee, Min-Sik Choi, Si-Hu Kim, Yea-Young Kwon
Studio: Palisades Tartan
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Country: South Korea
The final instalment in Park’s vengeance trilogy, and after the startling conclusion to Oldboy, the director certainly had his work cut out to ensure his next picture lived up to significantly raised expectations.
Setting the surreal tone early on, and demanding the audiences renewed attention, the film opens with the release of Geum-ja Lee, who has served over thirteen years in prison for the kidnap and murder of a 6-year-old boy (revealed via old news footage). Here she is greeted by an odd-looking preacher and his group of Father Christmas costume-clad converts, and a request to eat a block of tofu, as her commitment to live her life as white as white and not to sin again. Telling the do-gooder to go screw himself, she puts on a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and sets off with intent.
Meeting up with already-released former prison inmates, the film slowly reveals, via a number of cleverly integrated flashbacks, how she helped and befriended these women (from giving her kidney away to save a bank robbers life to poisoning the prison bully who would rape and beat them), and was now using their criminal expertise to execute her plan of revenge on the man who forced (by kidnapping/threatening her own young daughter) her to take the blame for such an evil act as a naive and vulnerable 20-year-old…
This has to rank as one of Park’s more vibrant and creative pieces of filmmaking. Although you are acutely aware this is a disturbing story, and the film does become increasingly darker in tone (there is another version where the film gradually fades from colour to black-and-white), as her plan gathers momentum, the world is bright and colourful, with Lee’s new found strength and power represented by her red high heel shoes, and strong eye shadow. Park also moves between a number of different filming styles, including narration, and cinematography techniques to tell the story – thankfully, this never overwhelms or distracts, but certainly impresses.
As you would expect from any Park film, many scenes are bizarre (Lee imagines pulling an animal with her foe, Mr. Baek’s head to a cliff’s edge where she subsequently blows him away, with the blood splatter dramatically highlighted by the pure white snow that has settled), and he never flinches from graphic violence when he wants to unrest his audience (Lee cuts off her finger when begging forgiveness from the murdered boy’s parents, for example).
Park is known for his dark humour, but some moments here are particularly laugh out loud funny despite the context – Baek is eating a meal with a former inmate Lee has planted, when he casually leaves his seat, bends her over the dining table, does his business, taps her on the head to say well done, and then returns to his seat to carry on with his meal. There are also some great moments when she reconnects with her daughter, who has been living in Australia and doesn’t speak a word of Korean.
In fact, the introduction of her daughter adds a lot of emotional weight to the film. When we first meet her, the young girl is lying on a branch looking at the sky, with the clouds spelling out, “I have no mother.” She turns to see Lee has arrived, and glances back up to see the “no” disperse. Later, in the film’s most powerful scenes, she uses the captured Baek to translate heartfelt explanatory words to her bemused daughter – here we see the previously icy cold and in control mother breaking down as she speaks directly to the camera.
As with all great Park movies, he manages to bring out a powerhouse performance from his lead, and Lee Young Ae is magnificent – a huge screen presence, and her unquestionable beauty necessary for the viewer to believe that she could possess such levels of control over people (the relationship she has with a doting work colleague is also touching).
The ending, despites its moments of humour, is harrowing, and poses a number of questions of human nature, which masterfully engrains the film onto your psyche long after the closing credits have rolled.
A vividly imagined tale, filled with a number of guilty pleasures and exceptional performances. Park certainly saved the best till last.
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