Film Reviews:

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance

aka Lady Vengeance, Kind-Hearted Ms. Geum-Ja

(Chan-wook Park, South Korea, 2005)

[Lady Vengeance][Lady Vengeance]The follow up to Chan-wook Park's brilliant Oldboy, and the finale of his 'revenge trilogy', Lady Vengeance boasts by far the strongest use of imagery so far in the director's career, as he acquires a stylish look that's fully his own, but has a downbeat story that, while compelling, is hardly enjoyable.

Whereas Oldboy powered along as the lead character rushed towards his fate, Lady Vengeance's story is presented out of order. The flashbacks work well, and are cut into the narrative in a way that's far more skillful than most movies, but as the story starts just before its end, it's unavoidable that there's little forward momentum.

The plot is similar to Tarantino's Kill Bill, with a female criminal seeking revenge on the boss who betrayed her and caused her to lose her child. The difference is that, where Tarantino didn't care at all about the Bride's morality, Chan-wook Park cares about little else. We are shown that criminal boss Mr Baek (Oldboy star Min-sik Choi) is much worse than Lady Vengeance Geum-ja Lee (a strong performance from Yeong-ae Lee): he is a child murderer, whereas she only kidnapped kids. We also see in flashback how she helped victimized inmates while in prison. But as the film progresses, her heroic status is undermined, until by the end, it is likely she may be an equal monster.

This is all thoughtful stuff, but this is not an examination of revenge like A Short Film About Killing. It is at heart a genre pic, more similar to Michael Winner's Death Wish. Trying to pack in added depth is commendable, but films such as these are by nature unrealistic, and trying to equate them with real life is ultimately pointless. The final scene is both shockingly nasty but also quite silly, something Park seems aware of, as he follows child murder with jokes.

Chan-wook Park would do well to take a look at Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, a far superior mix of revenge plot and philosophy. But Noe's film was an attempt to blow the genre apart. Chan-wook Park is too enamoured with revenge tropes for that, and so Lady Vengeance ends up seeming middling: too downbeat to be a Tarantino style gore-fest, but not serious enough to find any real insight. Sadly, this seems like a failed experiment, and quite a let down after the director's previous efforts. 7/10

Adrian Horrocks

See also:

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Get Carter

A-Z of Film Reviews