Lady Vengeance (2006)
Release Date: September 26th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Chan-wook Park Actors: Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Shi-hoo Kim, Yea-young Kwon, Su-hee Go
ady Vengeance” is one of the most stylistically intricate revenge pictures ever created. The catch, however, is that at its core it’s a drama, not a thriller. Of course, it has its thrilling moments, but they don’t come close to the level of intensity seen in the predecessor, “Oldboy.” The revelations are just as impactful and almost as twisted, but heartfelt emotions replace the fighting. That’s not to say “Lady Vengeance” is without violence – far from it, in fact, with just as much bloodshed and disturbing murders and even torture for good measure, though pure sadism is never the intent. For mature viewers looking for something different, the extremely nonlinear storyline, complex reprisal and redemption schemes, and gorgeous cinematography (boasting an abundance of stylish effects) should provide a cinematic experience unlike anything else.
It’s somewhat difficult to explain the plot without ruining the experience of watching the events unfold as they are shown in their labyrinthine, non-chronological order. But the story proper begins with Lee Geum-Ja (Yeong-ae Lee) having been falsely imprisoned for thirteen years for the ghastly crime of kidnapping and killing a young boy. Over the course of her lengthy captivity, she meticulously plots her revenge against the man responsible for destroying her life. As each scene holds a specific key to unraveling the mystery and motives of everyone involved in Geum-Ja’s plan, this is one film viewers will need to pay complete attention to – and repeat viewing is still recommended.
With “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Oldboy,” writer/director Park Chan-wook honed his twisted art of storytelling; with “Lady Vengeance,” an unofficial third chapter to his revenge trilogy, he has mastered his visual style. Every scene overflows with symbolism, nightmarish hallucinations, camera effects, and artistic manipulation. No frame is devoid of some sort of creative modification. Marbles roll, cakes are decorated, and tofu eaten, but never in a routine manner – the imagery alone is worth the price of admission.
Pitch black humor is similarly infused into almost every action, including murder and mutilation. Irony exists in abundance as the “kind-hearted” Lee Geum-Ja creates happiness through the deaths of others, while a decidedly unjust jury ultimately delivers justice. Chan-wook’s choice of classical music to score the film adds an even thicker layer of dark humor as the peacefully pleasant strings drastically contrast the horrors presented onscreen.
With its methodical pacing and slower build, “Lady Vengeance” may be daunting to those expecting a more accessible South Korean venture, along the lines of “Oldboy” (even though that film is far from a breezy watch by traditional standards). Anyone willing to immerse themselves in the winding story and involving characters, however, will be regaled with an aesthetically exquisite experience. For those not opposed to their tales of revenge served chillingly cold with mesmerizing moral ambiguity, “Lady Vengeance” will be a powerful answer to the Hollywood likes of “Kill Bill.”
– Joel Massie