Lady Vengeance (2005)

Lee Yeong-ae (Lee Geum-ja), Choi Min-sik (Mr. Baek)

Park Chan-wook (OldBoy)

From IMDB: "After a 13-year imprisonment for the kidnap and murder of a 6-year-old boy, beautiful Lee Guem-ja starts seeking revenge on the man that was really responsible for the boy's death."

Holy shit. When a viewer (namely me) volunteers for a headf**k, that viewer (namely me) needs to pony up and accept the consequences.

Even since seeing OldBoy last year -- review here -- I've recognized Park's potential for psychotic messed-upedness. Perhaps that's why I didn't volunteer to see the midnight showing of Lady Vengeance at the 2006 Wisconsin Film Festival. Instead, I saw the sweet-as-sugar-candy Sweet Land and congratulated myself on making a fantastic choice.

If I had seen Lady Vengeance in the theater, kinda strapped in and unable to look away, I would bear psychological scars. By contrast, I bore the strain relatively well by watching it at low volume, in hour-long bursts while the girls napped.

Ok, so I knew going in that Park makes movies about the unexpected. With OldBoy, I expected a head in a box and got something totally different. And my brain exploded. With Lady Vengeance, I expected scenes of intense, graphic violence and a twist ending. Ha! Ha! People unfamiliar with OldBoy might have been less taken aback by this twist because they'd watch with none of my baited-and-switched expectations.

The title, translated from the Korean, is actually Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, which makes more sense. She did not work alone, and her cohorts reveled in taking part in a larger scheme. They did so for varied reasons, all of which colored the first half of the film with a sense of curiosity, macabre playfulness, and overwhelming expectation. Dude, where's the grisly smack down?? Argh! Argh! What's she going to do to him?

Grim scenes ensued, but not the kind where men's teeth are pulled to strains of Vivaldi's "Summer" concerto. That's SO been done. No, this time I found myself watching particularly grim scenes intended to make parents violently nauseous. Well done! But the psychology -- an intense examination of the human potential for violence and the nature of civilization -- proved worth the horror.

I find it interesting that one of the promo blurbs called this "the best revenge movie since Kill Bill." Whether they meant Vol I or Vol II makes a difference to me. I couldn't stand the first one with its pointless, silly, cartoon violence. Only with the sequel, when we learn more of Kiddo's motives regarding her daughter did the revenge theme pick up resonance for me.

But the parallel is there. The revenge in OldBoy was motivated by personal resentment and hatred. The revenge in the Kill Bills and Lady Vengeance centers around a mother and her daughter. Perhaps a commentary about women and our buttons? Childdanger = sicko kickass?? Interesting, that. The cultural consideration, say American versus Korean, falls away to reveal only the mother-child bond.

Yet again, Park got me. I feel dumb-smacked like after reading an Ian McEwan novel. He's not gonna get me again, he's not gonna get me again, shit. He got me again. Congrats. Well done. Fantastic, actually. But that doesn't mean I'll ever watch the damn thing again. Some works of art, no matter how masterfully rendered, can only be borne once.

1 comment:

Pacze Moj said...

I wonder if Chan-wook Park made Sympathy for Lady Vengeance especially for parents, because, as a non-parent, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy did much more of the gut-punch thing to me than did Lady.

I also didn't like either of the Kill Bill films.

Funny thing about watching the movie with the sound turned low: I was most impressed with Park's use of sound! ...whether in the building where the main character lives (under the stairs, if I remember), with its constant creaking and groaning, or in the climactic scene, with the videotapes and then the torture. Creepy and unnerving.