(2005) dir. Chan-wook Park
The third and final film of director Chan-wook Park’s “Vengeance Trilogy” which included Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Oldboy (2003) takes a more moralistic look into the meaning and effects of revenge. This time the narrative, as the title lets us know, is placed on a female figure, who like her predecessors in the other films is also unjustly imprisoned and seeks revenge on her captors and torturers.
I saw Oldboy first and it really impressed me both visually and in terms of certain aspects of the narrative and dialogue. Chan-wook Park is often referred to as the “Quentin Tarantino of Korea”, which doesn’t really strike me as accurate, but I am not sure what aspects of Tarantino that they are referring to. His films have a poppy entertainment value, but don’t seem to be filled with references to other films so explicitly or to rely so heavily on pop-culture references.
Lady Vengeance, to me, was disappointing. Actually, everything else that I have seen by Park has disappointed, most especially his work in Three… Extremes (2004) and least so in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. I guess that I was hoping that all his films would live up to the surprise and impact of Oldboy, but they haven’t. But to say that Lady Vengeance was disappointing only shows that I had high hopes for it. It was still often visually impressive and there are certain narrative aspects that I thought were very clever and interesting. Despite playing with a similar overall concept, Park tells the story via numerous flashbacks and asides that slowly evoke the whole of the tale.
The film has a significant focus on religion, particularly Christian religion and the concept of redemption. Lady Vengeance herself, the character of Geum-ja Lee, plays up her adoptive religiosity that she picks up in prison, though in the end it proves to be a sham, though it has effects on many. Her relationship with a pastor that met her in prison is a strange aspect of the film. She shuns him openly and then eventually he sells her out to her nemesis by spying on her and informing him of her plans of revenge.
In the end, Geum-ja is redeemed in a overly stagy and melodramatic way. But her vengeance is tempered by her pulling in of several families who have had their children abducted and murdered. She forces them to watch horrific videos of their childrens’ murders and entices them with the help of a police detective to individually take out their own vengeance on the killer. It’s an interesting twist, and certainly has its moments, with the multiple class tiers of grieving parents lined up in a dark corridor covered in plastic frocks to keep the blood off their clothes.
It’s clearly a turning point and it’s an interesting aspect of the film’s approach to revenge and redemption. The problem is that the tone is trying very hard to strike emotional chords, certainly striving for more significant impact and drama. This part of the film feels very overdone and cripples the ending from having real impact. I guess the more twisted moral ambiguity in Oldboy worked better for me.
It will be interesting to see what Park does next.